Mayawati and Prakash Ambedkar have gone out of way to seek Muslim votes. Just recently while speaking at an election rally in western UP, Mayawati had openly asked the Muslim electorate not to waste their votes on the Congress and vote for the BSP-SP-RLD combine instead to prevent BJP from coming to power. Prakash Ambedkar’s party has allied with Owaisi’s AIMIM to contest the parliamentary elections in Maharashtra with an eye on the Dalit-Muslim axis.
No doubt, Dalits and Muslims when taken together, form a formidable electoral group as they comprise around 36-38 percent of the total population of the country. In the heydays of Congress domination, both the communities voted together in favour of the Congress candidates but of late, these groups have drifted away from the Congress towards the regional cum social justice parties like SP, BSP, JDU and RJD. After the capture of power by the BJP in 2014, all hell broke loose as the ruling party was accused of attempting to impose the Hindutva agenda in the country by the left liberal secular forces. It was alleged that the Dalits & the minorities were not safe under the BJP rule which wants to impose cultural Brahminical hegemony in the country.
Rohith Vemula suicide case, the lynching of Akhlaq, war cry over love jihad & conversions, issue of beef & cows, Una incident, the violence at Saharanpur, Bhima-Koregaon incident and the protests at JNU and Jadavpur University gave credence to the opposition propaganda that BJP was trying to marginalise the Dalits & the Muslims. The nation became a theatre of intense ideological contestations. To say that the nation is in the throes of war of ideas is a bit preposterous but it can certainly be said with conviction that today, after the demolition of the Nehruvian consensus, the nation is living in the market of ideas.
The game plan of Mayawati and Prakash Ambedkar seems to be to exploit these sentiments among the Dalits & the Muslims and make them stand against the BJP. It’s not that BJP has not done anything for the Dalits or the backward classes in the last 5 years. Nullifying the dilution caused by the Supreme court verdict in SC/ST Act by bringing an ordinance to the sheer dismay of its core upper caste constituency, the restoration of 13 point roster in Delhi University recruitments after an adverse judicial pronouncement, going all out to bring reservation in promotions for Dalits, setting up of National Commission for OBCs and giving it a constitutional status and making the party apparatus more inclusive in social composition are some of the path breaking steps that the party has taken to do away with its image of being an upper caste party.
BJP knows that to achieve its dream of the political unification of all the Hindus, it is essential to bring all the upper castes, intermediate castes, OBCs and Dalits under one umbrella. A good percentage of the Dalits understand what BJP has done for them and what their fellow caste leaders did for them in the past. To counter the divisive Samajik Nyaya, the BJP has come up with its own Samajik Samrashta. RSS has been doing constructive works in the areas dominated by the lower castes to bring them into their fold for a very long time; this is now bearing fruit.
Ambedkar’s views about Hindu religion are often highlighted by the left-liberal-secular spectrum but when it comes to articulation of his views about Muslim polity/religion, there is a studied silence. Yes, Ambedkar worked closely with Jinnah and the imperial powers to discredit Congress and participated in the infamous Day of Deliverance that was celebrated by Muslim League all across the country in the aftermath of the resignation of several Congress ministries in 1940. He wanted to follow the Muslim League template on separate electorates and argued for separate electorate to be given to the depressed classes but that could not materialise due to the fast undertaken by Gandhi. Had Ambedkar succeeded in his design, a possible balkanisation of the country would have certainly happened on the pattern of Pakistan. For Ambedkar, the basis of partition should have been social discrimination and not religion though he supported the demand for Pakistan. But then, he was never an apologist and spoke his mind out. Despite in agreement with Jinnah’s politics, he did not mince words while speaking disapprovingly about Indian Muslims.
Of late, Dalit activism has radicalised and has become impregnated with Naxalism-Maoism and Islamists. In its vituperative hatred towards Manuwad…. Dalit activism is not averse to enlist the support of Islamists. No wonder, Jai Bheem Jai Meem keeps reverberating on social media. The dalit activists need to learn what Ambedkar said about Muslims & Islam. They need to understand why Ambedkar did not ask dalits to convert to Islam or Christianity. Ambedkar did not want dalits to be de-nationalised after conversion to the Abhramic faiths.
Here, then, is Ambedkar on Islam: (Pakistan or Partition of India)
“Hinduism is said to divide people and in contrast Islam is said to bind people together. This is only a half-truth. For Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”
Before giving thumbs up to Jai Bheem Jai Meem, it is important to glance through the pages of pre partition Indian history. Like Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Jogindra Nath Mandal, an important Dalit leader of erstwhile undivided Bengal, believed that Hindu India would never give a fair deal to the Dalits. He placed his faith not on Mahatma Gandhi’s India but on Jinnah’s Pakistan as he felt that Dalits would be safer in Islamic Pakistan. He was instrumental in the migration of lakhs of Scheduled castes to Pakistan and had the distinction of becoming the Law Minister of Pakistan. Despite occupying such a high constitutional post, he could not do anything significant for the Dalits most of who were deprived of even basic human rights and were derided for being Hindus.
A significant percentage of the Dalits had to embrace Islam to save their lives. JN Mandal was crestfallen and returned to India unsung and unheard thereafter. At the time of its formation, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had 20 percent Hindu population, a substantial chunk of which comprised of the lower castes but just look at the situation today; the population of Hindus has gone down to 2 percent approximately. A few days back, there was uproar worldwide over an incident in Sindh province of Pakistan in which 2 young teenage girls well below 18 years of age were forcefully abducted, converted and then, married off to much older Muslim men. This is not an isolated incident for Pakistan but is a normal.
The drastic dip in Hindu numbers can be attributed to forced conversions of Hindus and forced marriages of Hindu girls in Muslim families. The situation in Bangladesh is no different as Hindus have been compelled to leave their homes and properties behind and flee to India. The Hindu population has gone down substantially from 27-28 percent in 1971 to below 10 percent now. Most of the Hindus who have borne the brunt of Islamic attacks are from the scheduled caste and other lower caste communities.
When you analyse the victims of communal riots in India, you will find that most of the affected persons are from the lower income groups, from the slums and from the marginalised communities; this applies to both the communities. While the seculars rush to Muslim neighbourhoods to wipe their tears, no one bothers to visit the homes of affected Hindu families for fear of being labelled as communal. It is the BJP and other Hindu Right organisations that stand by them in this hour of grief. Naturally, the Hindu marginalized groups see RSS & BJP as their saviours. Reservation is a holy cow for the Dalits but just take a look at the minority educational institutions like AMU in the country. AMU does not give reservation to Dalits and OBCs. There is hardly a Madarsa in India that celebrates Ambedkar Jayanti. Dalits have an emotional attachment with the Constitution but for the Muslims, religious symbols matter more than national symbols or the Constitution.
The Muslim-Dalit political alliance will always be a non starter. And moreover, what about the religious Right turned Dalits? Will they put their stakes on Muslim-Dalit unity? The rise of Modi has shattered the left leaning narrative of the Dalits. It would not be correct to think that such political alliance of Muslims and Dalits would achieve political visibility. Dalits never constituted a homogeneous identity. Leaders like Mayawati and Prakash Ambedkar just represent the Jatav and the Mahar segments of the Dalit community. All Dalits are not Ambedkarites or left leaning which are making most of the noises against Hindu Right.
Had all the Dalits in India being genuinely inspired by Ambedkar, by now, a sizable proportion of the Scheduled castes would have been Buddhists. Only the constitutional Ambedkar succeeded in India, not the socio-cultural Ambedkar and this offers hope for the Hindu Right. Before talking about Dalit-Muslim political alliance, ground level realities need to be taken into account. If the left leaning Ambedkarite Dalits are not comfortable with an inclusive Hindutva project that makes space for subalterns, how will they work with the monochromatic one god-one scripture-one path Islam without any fear of losing their fiercely guarded identity & autonomy?