Why are Dalits turning away from BJP?

PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have sensed the deteriorating support from the Dalit community which had shifted to BJP after 2014 Lok Sabha Election.

When the BJP emerged as the majority party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election last year, everyone thought that the party which strives on the upper caste Hindu voter base has finally been able to get the ‘Anti-Dalit’ tag off them. The success was hailed historic as it penetrated the deep-rooted caste-based politics in the Uttar Pradesh. However, one year later, the picture doesn’t seem much flowery for the ruling party.

The path to 2019 General Elections will not be easy for BJP as it understood that caste-politics is still very much strong in the country. The party experienced it in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-poll elections. The recent Bharat Bandh protests called by several Dalit organizations to protest the Supreme Court order in the SC/ST act was evident that anger is mounting in the Dalit community against the ruling BJP.

So much so, that PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have sensed the deteriorating support from the Dalit community which had shifted to BJP after 2014 Lok Sabha Election. We can understand it from the recent speeches of Shah and PM Modi. On the 38th Foundation day of the party, Amit Shah did not talk about the fired up Karnataka Assembly Election but talked about Reservation for the Dalit community. The party posed itself as a ‘pro-Dalit’ party after electing Ram Nath Kovind- a Dalit president for India.

Even after all these efforts, why are the Dalits still turning away from BJP?

BJP’s traditional voter base was never Dalit community:

BJP’s strong Hindutva pitch has galvanized the party a strong Hindu Voter base. However, most of these are Upper Caste Hindus. The prominent BJP leaders too were Upper Caste Hindus including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi to even Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The party always targeted the Hindu Votes especially from the upper two tiers of the Caste system i.e Brahmins and Kshatriyas. A post-poll survey conducted by CSDS throws more light on the matter.

According to the survey, BJP’s Hindu (Upper Caste) voter base increased from 35.3% in 2004 to 47.8% in 2014. While Hindu (OBC) voter base increased from 25.2% in 2004 to 33.8% in 2014. Interestingly, the BJP was able to increase its voter base in SC/ST community too. However, the percentage of increase in the Hindu Upper Caste votes is more than that of any other community.

Dalit representation in the BJP:

The representation of the Dalit community in the party too is negligible. The party leadership is heavily dominated by the Upper Caste Hindus and it is even evident in the Lok Sabha. Out of 282 Lok Sabha MPs of BJP, 122 i.e. 43.3% are Upper Caste Hindus. The Dalit MPs are 15.6% comprising 44 MPs. The picture is even worse if we look at the CMs of the states ruled by BJP. Out of total 15 CMs, except 2 ST CMs, rest all are either Upper Caste Hindus or OBCs. All is not well with the Dalit MPs and MLAs in the party. Recently, a Dalit MLA had written to PM Modi saying that He was thrown out by UP CM Yogi Adityanath for raising the issue of Dalit discrimination. On Saturday, another Dalit MP from UP wrote to PM Modi saying that the party has failed to fulfil the promises made to the community. This internal caste-issue raises a red flag for the party.

Electing Ram Nath Kovind as the President of India:

During the presidential election too, the party’s bid to woo the Dalits was visible. Against Congress’ Mira Kumar-who is also from Dalit community, the BJP fielded Ram Nath Kovind-also a Dalit BJP leader. As Kovind won comfortably to grace the position of President of India, the BJP thought it would help it to amass the Dalit support. However, the BJP was trumped by its own Dalit card. So, despite giving the country its second Dalit President after KR Narayanan, why is BJP unable to get Dalit support?

Dalit Atrocities:

The prominent reason why the Dalits who have turned to BJP in 2014 are shifting away from it is the increasing atrocities on the Dalit community. The Una incident where four Dalit youths were flogged allegedly for cow slaughter by the Cow vigilantes. Since then there have been several such cases where Dalits were attacked by the cow vigilantes. The recent incident of violence at Bhima-Koregaon, Amendment of the SC/ST act by Supreme Court and the outpouring of the Dalit community in support of the community leaders point towards a growing threat for the BJP’s prospect in 2019.

The vandalism of statues of Dr BR Ambedkar, the creator of Indian Constitution and revered leader by the Dalit community has fuelled the anger more.

With the Dalit community turning against the BJP, it sets to lose more. The Dalit community makes up for the 16.6% of the population. The Hindu consolidated votes had driven BJP to power in 2014. But if BJP loses out on the Dalit votes along with the Muslim votes, it opens itself to the bigger seat-loss threat in 2019.

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