The Dalit Dilemma: Join Mainstream or Get Marginalised
By Ajit Kumar Jha
Published: 23rd Mar 2014 09:36:47 AM
On the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Dalit politics is poised on the cusp of a devastating dilemma: either join mainstream political parties and risk losing one’s identity, or else, fight it out alone and risk losing power. Either way the agenda—the assertion of the subaltern identity—loses out in the long run.
Perched on such a precipice, the Dalit leader from Bihar and the president of the Lok Janshakti Party, Ram Vilas Paswan, somersaulted and formed a pre-poll alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Athavale-led Republican Party of India (RPI) in Maharashtra had similarly poll-vaulted across the political spectrum and joined the NDA in Maharashtra. The Buddhist Dalit leader, Udit Raj, the president of the All India Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Federation, has also joined the BJP-led alliance. In contrast, Mayawati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party was devastatingly defeated in the recent Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi, has decided to take the risk and go alone by forming direct alliances with communities and castes by providing tickets to their aspirants under the umbrella of the BSP.
Hajipur, Paswan’s reserved constituency where he has won the LS election eight times. Paswan won the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat with record majorities in 1977 and 1989. Except for 1984 and 2009, Paswan has won here every time. Since LJP won none of the seats it contested in 2009, the “secular camp” of Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) tried to cold-shoulder Paswan. As a result, the LJP has rebuffed the two allies by entering into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in Bihar, according to which the LJP will contest seven Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, including Hajipur.
All of a sudden, his detractors—the Congress, RJD as well as the Janata Dal (U)—have begun labeling Paswan as a “turncoat”. But the truth is that Paswan is one of the most pivotal players in Bihar politics. For psephologists, he is a political weathercock who smells the political trend and moves with the electoral wave.
Switching is not an easy option since there are grave risks involved with each somersault. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar seems to be paying the enormous price of his latest poll-vault since he seems to be out of political reckoning in the Lok Sabha polls after splitting with the BJP. Is Paswan tired of the switches he has to make? Paswan answers the question by talking about the three dilemmas confronting the Dalit leaders and parties:
Dilemma 1: “The spread of Dalits all over India is such that by themselves they are always in a minority. In any election Dalits can only benefit if they enter into an alliance with another social group, one of the dominant ones.”
Dilemma 2: “In the case of Dalit political parties, either ally with mainstream parties for power and risk losing one’s identity or go it alone and risk getting out of power.”
Dilemma 3: “Dalit parties end up faring badly in reserved constituencies compared to mainstream parties, which in a way defeats the very purpose of seat reservations.”
Paswan has fought the constraints of such a cruel dilemma by joining hands with other communities. Paswan explains the philosophy of his core strategy by using the metaphor: “Consider the palm of a hand, how all the four fingers and the thumb synchronise with each other and maintain a good grip, so do social groups, including Dalits, maintain social harmony in society by allying with others.”