The emergence of Dalit-Muslim coalition can also be attributed to the vacuum in the political leadership from Dalit as well as the Muslim community.
As the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are drawing closer, the political parties have started making their moves to mobilize the mass support. While BJP is pinning its hope on quashing the SC/ST Amendment Act to please the upset Dalit community, Congress is going the Soft Hindutva way to erase its image as a pro-Muslim party. Maharashtra remains one of the most important states for the political parties as there are as many as 48 constituencies in the Maratha dominated state. However, with the increasing unrest among various communities against the present BJP government, opposition parties are deliberating on various caste and religion based electoral equations. On the same line, Dalit leader and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh’s Prakash Ambedkar and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by the Owaisi brothers are exploring the possibility of a tie-up for the Lok Sabha polls. Interestingly enough, both the parties have been vocal critics of both the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress.
Reportedly, Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, is working on forming the ‘Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi’ of Ambedkarite, Left, and Left-of-Centre parties in Maharashtra. AIMIM- a party based out of Hyderabad headed by Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi rose as a prominent Muslim party in the recent years. As per reports, Prakash Ambedkar has made an offer in this regard to Owaisi. Considering the diverse population of the state of Maharashtra, the potential Dalit-Muslim equation can have major impacts in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and prove to be a headache for the ruling BJP whose core vote bank are Hindus and Congress, which enjoyed the support of rural population and Muslims.
Dalit-Muslim percentage in Maharashtra’s population:
According to Census 2011, Maharashtra is India’s 2nd most populous state being a home to as many as 11 crore individuals. The importance of caste equation in the state can be understood by caste percentage in Maharashtra’s population. According to the Census, 79% of the whole population are from general caste, 12% are from scheduled caste and 9% are scheduled tribes. In the SC category, Dalits alone constitute to 14% of the state’s population. Buddhist Dalits i.e. Mahars who converted to Buddhism following Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar are the biggest community of the Dalits. On the other hand, Muslim population makes up for 11.5% of the state’s population. Together, both the community make up to approximately 26% of the state’s population. Though the number looks insignificant, electorally it can have wider impact electorally as the General category or Hindu population is scattered and not under one banner. The Dalit-Muslim solidarity can provide alternatives for both the communities who for years felt cheated as they were reduced to only vote banks by the political parties.
AIMIM’s Dalit-Muslim Outreach Initiative:
Though the AIMIM hasn’t officially confirmed about accepting the offer made by Prakash Ambedkar, looking at the party’s strategy in the past, it is more likely to agree. For the Muslim party, the concept of Dalit-Muslim coalition is not new as it had tried to forge the socio-political coalition of the two communities back in 2015 as well. Surprisingly enough, this new equation proved to be quite successful.
In 2015 Aurangabad municipal corporation, AIMIM emerged as the second-largest party. The strategy was to go beyond its core Muslim vote base and include Dalits in the narrative as well. AIMIM even exceeded both the Congress and NCP by winning 26 seats. Out of these 26 corporators, five were Dalits. Though the Shiv Sena-BJP managed a close win, it must be noted that AIMIM secured just two seats less than the Sena’s 28.
Dalit and Muslim community in the search for an alternative:
One of the reasons for the emergence of Dalit-Muslim coalition can also be attributed to the vacuum in the political leadership from Dalit as well as the Muslim community. At present, there are no national-level leaders who represent the communities and rally for their issues. The widespread anger is due to the conception that the Dalits and Muslims are merely used as a vote bank by the political parties. However, their concerns are not paid heed to. Though for a long time, Republican Party of India and Ramdas Athavale were looked at as prominent Dalit voices, however, the support of the community seems to fade with his decision to ally with the BJP.
On the other hand, Muslim community too, feels that Congress which is often accused of Muslim appeasement has done too little for the community. The community also does not have a strong leader and those elected have done too little for the community. This discontent among Muslim community against Congress also explains the rise of AIMIM as the alternate to the Congress for the community.
Counter to Hindutva politics?
In the recent years, especially since the historic win of Narendra Modi in 2014, India is witnessing a new era in Hindutva politics. Not only BJP whose core voters are Hindu upper castes but also Congress has now shifted its focus to Hindu community. The Congress is trying to project Soft-Hindutva with re-branding Rahul Gandhi as true devout Hindu. The assertion that Rahul Gandhi is “Janeu-dhari” and even the recent Kailash Mansarovar yatra is a part of a strategy to reach out to the estranged Hindu voters of Congress.
This rise in Hindutva politics is taken as a threat to the Dalit and Muslim communities. The threat is aided furthermore by the increasing cases of violence against the minority communities. Apparently, Dalits and Muslims have been at the receiving end of this violence. Moreover, the government’s lackadaisical approach in tackling such cases has led to the perception that the violence is state-backed. This has indeed created a need to assert a Dalit-Muslim solidarity politically.
M3 of Maharashtra Politics:
The concept of the equation of the M3 of the Maharashtra politics- Mahar (Dalits), Muslim and Marathas have been around since quite a sometime. Though it looks paradoxical considering the historical and cultural enmity between Marathas and Dalits, Muslims; in the recent times, it has been more apparent. The Marathas who are prominent upper caste in Maharashtra had taken to streets demanding reservation. However, one of the demand was also to quash the SC/ST act. The demand is exactly against the demand of SC/ST community to quash the amendment introduced by the Supreme Court in the act. On the other hand, Maratha and Muslims communities are historical adversaries since the Nizam rule on Maharashtra.
In the contemporary times, bringing the three communities on the same platform or uniting them under one umbrella will be a gigantic task which runs the risk of internal fall-out.
However, the Dalit-Muslim coalition seems more likely and less risky. Whether the equation would turn out to be fruitful or not is to be seen in the future. But one thing is for sure, the state-wide Dalit-Muslim coalition effort will definitely shake things in the political landscape.