The changing face of Dalit politics

The Dalit youth is in search of powerful narrative and new organizations that are youth-centric.


With 2019 just a year away, the one thing all the political parties are aware of is Dalit votes are going to be a deciding factor to ensure a victory. Three months into 2018 and we are already witnessing two national political parties going all out to lure the Dalit voters. On the backdrop of increasing Dalit atrocities and recent amendments in the SC/ST Act, the BJP has already faced a Dalit community. Just four years after PM Modi took to power, the “pro-Dalit” image BJP built painstakingly has started to fade. On the other hand, Congress is tapping on the Dalit atrocities issue. Not fielding any candidate against Jignesh Mewani-a rising Dalit politician, indicated that the party does not want to hurt the community. But, the party’s serious attempt to reach out to the Dalits can be witnessed with the launch of Save the Constitution drive which will continue until next year.

With the Dalit issues gaining prominence in the political discourse again, and the rise of new faces in Dalit agitation, we are on the verge of witnessing a new wave Dalit politics. The recent outpour of Dalit anger during Bhima-Koregaon incident and Bharat Bandh made it even more obvious. However, this new wave of Dalit politics goes beyond the traditional methodologies of politics of prominent Dalit leaders like Mayawati, Prakash Ambedkar or Ramdas Athawle.

Dalit Politics
(Image Source: Web)
BJP President Amit Shah having a meal with a Dalit family in Varanasi

A Brief history of Dalit politics:

Post-independence, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar remained a front-runner in the Dalit Politics. He founded the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942 to campaign for the rights of the Dalit community. Along with it, he founded a political party called Independent Labour Party. The party won few provincial elections and also successfully organized the largest peasant protest pre-independence. After his death, the Dalit politics saw many phases and many leaders including some powerful ones. From the Scheduled Caste Federation emerged the Republic Party of India which chose the path of Ambedkarite socialism. But the internal strife and race to power led to split in the party.

Dalit Politics
Image Source: Web

The Dalit politics saw a definite moment during the Dalits Panthers movement. The erstwhile social organization filled the vacuum created in the Dalit leadership after the split of RPI. Inspired by Black Panthers Movement in America, the Dalit Panthers movement initially emphasis on militancy and revolutionary attitudes. Most members were young men, literary figures whose academic qualifications ranged from not having a basic education to master’s degrees. The movement took the Indian politics by storm during the 1970s and early 1980s only to split into three sub-groups in 1977.

In 1984, the Dalit politics again saw a rise of new political outfit catering to the Bahujan community. Kanshi Ram a prolific writer on Dalit Rights and social worker founded the party. His animosity to the major parties like Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal was known. He laid the foundation of the party in the most populated state of the country Uttar Pradesh which was further strengthened by Mayawati-his successor.


Mayawati-the only leader in last twenty years to serve as a CM of UP for four consecutive stints, was the first female leader from the SC/ST community to be the CM. Mayawati extensively supported reservation in both government and private sectors for backward classes, with an increase in quotas and inclusion of more communities such as religious minorities and economically weak upper castes. Her stint as a CM though controversial but put her as a flag bearer of the Dalit community.

Her downfall after 2014 put the spotlight on the groups like Bhim Army which aggressively fought for Dalit Rights. The incidents like Una gave rise to a new Dalit leader in Gujarat-Jignesh Mewani. He was elected as MLA in Gujarat Assembly Election as an independent candidate.

A New Era in Dalit politics?

However, the Dalit youth are now going beyond the established political parties to express themselves. Though the aim is the same i.e. fight for Dalit rights, the expression is different. The Dalit youth is in search of powerful narrative and new organizations that are youth-centric.

Bheem Army’s rise in Uttar Pradesh after 2014 has been meteoric. While BSP is trying to reinvent itself with the help of Yadav coalition, Bhim Army has majorly focused on the Dalit Youth who are ridden with problems like joblessness and lack of social equality.

Dalit politics
Image Source: Web

Adding to that is upcoming political party Bahujan Azad Party. The party is founded by 50 IIT alumnus from around the country. The party is waiting to get official certification from the Election Commission of India. The IITians have quit their jobs to form a political party to fight for the rights of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

The party members have said that they will start working from the ground first rather than jumping in the race to win elections. the party which has kick-started its social media campaign with videos citing their aim, features B R Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose and A P J Abdul Kalam, Periyar, among others on its poster. The to be politicians aim to give a different direction to the Dalit politics.

Dalit politics
Image Source: Web

However, will these parties actually make a difference in Dalit Politics or just prove to be another vote splitting element? What do senior leaders like Prakash Ambedkar think?

Prakash Ambedkar on new entrants:

Talking to HW News, Prakash Ambedkar expressed his thoughts on the new entrants in the Dalit politics. While he welcomed the entry of educated Dalit youth into the politics, he said that instead of starting their own party, they should join the already established parties. “There is a new upsurge in Dalit movement. The upsurge is led by somebody else and not these IITians. I think they can give input on planning. They should join the established groups.”

He also observed that the new party will take a lot of time to establish itself. In a no hold barred words, he said that no party flourishes as faster as these new entrants think. “Merely saying that we are educated, though their intention is good, unless and until they are on the ground, there is a reluctance on the part of people to accept,” Ambedkar said.

Prakash Karat sharing a stage with Prakash Ambedkar. Image Courtesy: Web

When asked about if this indicates a new wave in Dalit politics and will it lead to another historic movement similar to Dalit Panthers he said that we have to wait and watch. “Soon after launching, Dalit Panthers started agitating. They got the support of the masses because they fought on the issues,” said Ambedkar. He further said that one of the most important things for these IITians to do is start agitating.

While these new entrants will lead a new era in Dalit politics or not will be tested in upcoming times. However, one cannot deny that Dalit politics is shaping the mainstream political discourse and the new entrants will certainly find themselves in the middle of the rising Dalit aspirations.

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