It is true that the big Uttar Pradesh victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a result of a new rainbow coalition of castes and communities. It is an oversimplified conclusion that he has broken caste barriers. On the contrary, he has carved out a new and very formidable coalition of disparate groups and restructured the existing structure to his advantage. The core to this was hitherto unattended non-Yadav OBCs. Neither the Samajwadi Party nor the Bahujan Samaj Party bothered to connect with them.
The Missed 60%
In the analysis of the big Modi magic post UP results, we might have overlooked a new reality that needs attention – the most marginalised Indians, the Jatavs, comprising 60 percent of all Dalits in UP. Can the badly bruised Mayawati keep them with her? They have largely voted for her in the 2017 polls. After all, her party polled 22 percent of votes largely because of this overwhelming support from the Jatavs.
The BJP has got a big chunk of non-Jatav Dalit votes comprising Valmikis, Khatiks and Pasis, but not the Jatavs who continue to swear by BR Ambedkar and his ideology. The BJP has tried hard to woo them by singing praises for Ambedkar to naming their digital payment platform as BHIM. But the Jatavs have stayed away from the BJP. At least thus far.
A Leadership Vacuum
There are two problems:
The Jatavs have been strongly resisting BJP's insistence on following Hindu ways and chanting Vande Mataram etcetera. Efforts like ghar wapsi by the RSS have always annoyed them.
The other problem is that the BJP wants the Jatavs’ votes in UP, but doesn’t give any representation to them. You will find the BJP courting a Dr Narendra Jadhav of Maharashtra or a Nihalchand of Rajasthan, but not a single person from UP. If Savitri Bai is a BJP Lok Sabha MP, it is because the BJP found her to be electable after the BSP declined her a ticket in 2014.
Perhaps in the BJP’s scheme of things, wooing Jatavs is a low priority area as they are in direct conflict with the brahminical persuasions of the saffron outfit. This group has been most talked about in political discourse since Independence, but still continue to be the most deprived of opportunities.
The Congress was the natural party of these Dalits for long. Indira Gandhi had recognised their aspirations and gave petrol pump dealerships. But now when times have changed, the Congress still thinks (if it thinks) that these people need food while the new reality is that they want dignity and new economic opportunities.
In Punjab, the Sikh Dalits are still searching for political empowerment. They have clearly supported Amarinder Singh-led Congress in this election. In Rajasthan and Maharashtra too, they matter. In Maharashtra, despite a big history of Dalit movement, they are still moving from one party to another.
An Opportunity for the Bruised Opposition
With the UP verdict, this group faces a hard time. They might have been left leaderless. With Mayawati’s resurrection a tall ask now, there is an opportunity for others to woo Dalits and bring them into their fold. While the Modi juggernaut continues, opportunities often arise in the marketplace of ideas and unending election cycles. A vibrant democracy needs that such opportunities are tapped by somebody. A totally lost Congress has a thin window of opportunity here, but does it have the ability to sniff out this opportunity?
By the way, humiliating defeat aside, the Congress registered a handsome 51 percent gain in votes in some constituencies reserved for scheduled castes. In 18 such constituencies, the Congress put up candidates who were brought to the party fold through the Dalit leadership mission, a pet project of Rahul Gandhi. Can the Congress make this gain count in future elections?
Winning elections is one thing and spotting an opportunity, quite another. The important point I am trying to make here is that no Indian dream of an equal and just society can be realised without taking good care of those who are on the margins. I am talking about 15 crore Indians here. They are at the crossroads today. For the bruised opposition, there is an opportunity there.