The BJP’s latest ‘dine with Dalits’ outreach doesn’t seem to have faired well with the saffron party’s own lawmakers from the Dalit community. After a string of embarrassing incidents and statements, the BJP’s Dalit MPs want the party to put an immediate end to such visits to Dalit homes.
Bahraich MP Savitri Phule says the exercise is filling distrust among Dalits. “When you need Dalit votes, mosquitoes are not a problem,” she tells News18, taking a dig at UP minister Anupama Jaiswal who had complained of mosquito bites during her visit to a Dalit home.
“These visits do not serve any purpose. When you go to a Dalit’s home, the idea is to realise how a Dalit lives. Instead, you eat shahi paneer, dal makhni, pulao and gulab jamuns and then share the photo on Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook,” says Savitri Phule, referencing minister Suresh Rana’s visit to a Dalit home.
Rana had landed uninvited at a Dalit family’s home in Aligarh’s Lohagarh village with party supporters and had allegedly ordered the food and cutlery from outside. He has denied the allegations.
Phule is not alone in her anger. Dr Sanjay Paswan, president of the party’s Scheduled Caste wing, also wants the BJP to go slow on the visits to Dalit families. He says the BJP won’t gain much from the outreach if the leaders who are part of it don’t know what’s needed to be done. “For example, not many non-Dalit leaders, who take part in Samrasta Bhog Abhiyan, know that most Dalits are non-vegetarians. In one day, they cannot teach the Dalits to be vegetarians.”
BJP MP Udit Raj, who is also a Dalit, says the party seems to have been caught in a time wrap as some leaders still feel they are doing the Dalits a “favour” by dining with them.
According to Indudar Honnapura, a Bengaluru-based Dalit activist, “All these leaders believe in symbolism. Even today, Dalits are not allowed inside temples. Discrimination happens in many places over drinking water. Many hotels in Bengaluru are reluctant to give entry to Dalits. Why this symbolism?”
The ‘Dining With Dalits’ controversy is not new for the BJP. In May last year, its CM candidate BS Yeddyurappa was booked for “practising untouchability” after he refused to eat pulao prepared at a Dalit home in Tumkuru but ordered idly and vada from a local hotel.