SEEMA MUSTAFA | 11 OCTOBER, 2016
The Cow Brings Muslims and Dalits Together
NEW DELHI: The lynching in Dadri, the flogging in Una would have remained isolated incidents had it not been that both were carried out by cow vigilantes through a public display of intolerance that left India shocked.
Mobs claiming to protect the cow, dragged out a Muslim man from his home and beat him to death in a village in Dadri in September 2015; and another crowd caught hold of four Dalit youth, stripped them, beat them, made a video that went viral on the social media but instead of bringing the anticipated kudos it generated deep anger in not just Gujarat but in the buroughs across India.
The Dalit disaffection with the current government started with the same constituency that had moved to vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, the youth. The suicide by Rohith Vemula and the subsequent politics by the BJP shifted equations rapidly, and moved the youth into a pattern of resistance that has become more intense over the months. Vemula’s mother constantly pilloried by the BJP for not being a Dalit, is campaigning in Uttar Pradesh on a non political Dalit platform against the BJP.
Muslims and Dalits in Uttar Pradesh voted for the Congress party along with the Brahmin for the first several elections after Independence. However, in this vote the Dalits were a vote bank separate from the Muslims and the Brahmins who shared a social and electoral affinity in UP. The Muslims, particularly the elite families that formed the visible backbone of the Congress in UP, did not identify with the marginalised, seeing themselves as more mainstream and in sync with the so called ruling classes.
The shift has been perceptible over the years, under Congress rule as well, with the marginalisation of Muslims dropping them to the socio-economic level of Dalits. An eye opener for the minority community was the Justice Rajinder Sachar report, that established the last with statistics and data. Since then it has been a downslide with the BJP in government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi setting into motion a policy to further marginalise and isolate the minorities.
The Dadri incident killing Mohammad Akhlaq struck new fear amongst the Muslims, following the riots in Muzaffarnagar that for the first time broke rural amity between Jats and Muslims to a point of no return. The Muzaffarnagar violence was part of the right wing groups campaign against what was termed ‘love jihad’ and the hapless Dadri villageer was killed as part of the’gau raksha’ campaign launched by the same right wing forces.
By the time Una happened, where the Dalits were targeted, the Muslims in UP had started feeling the isolation. As in other parts of India. Bereft of a leadership, even activists and intellectuals, the minorities remained holed up in their homes coming out, however, when the Dalits rose in protest against the Una flogging. Local Gujarat activists called for a march to Una, after a series of localised protests, and the Muslims joined the Dalits in visible support.
In UP, the Muslims who have been a little wary of Mayawati seem to be discarding this reticence rapidly. Fed up with the Samajwadi party, and even more so after the familial fight that seems to have divided the Mulayam Singh family into two bitter warring factions, the minorities are looking at the BSP with new seriousness. Mayawati sensing this, has emerged from her shell, and her rhetoric has shifted dramatically to include the concerns of not just the Dalits but also the Muslims. She has launched a frontal attack on not just the BJP but on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even questioning him for celebrating Dussehra in Lucknow when he should have marked the festival with sobriety following the Uri terror attack.
Always adept at playing her political rivals at their own game, Mayawati has trained her guns on the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections due next year, directly wooing the Muslims, and promising them governance and security.
Mayawati’s rally at Saharanpur drew a huge crowd of Muslims, surprising the local Samajwadi members who tend to take the minority vote for granted. At Agra the overwhelming Dalit presence was dotted with the Muslims as well. It might be recalled that BJP President Amit Shah had to cancel a rally at Agra as the response was too low.
The Lucknow rally has been a resounding success. The huge rally--estimates vary between 3-5 lakhs-- in the UP capital has unnerved all Mayawati’s political rivals, with the enthusiastic response from the largely Dalit crowd indicative of a revival for this leader who had lost a large percentage of her electorate to the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Mayawati in what is certainly not usual practice for her, appealed to the Muslims directly to vote for the BSP saying, “We have 22-23 percent of Dalit votes, BSP has the highest probability to win with the help of Muslim votes.” She urged the elctorate to ensure that any provocative move to split the votes was not successful.
The Dalits are moving back to the BSP, and this includes not just the Jatavs that have always been the core constituency for this party. The Vemula incident resulting in outrage amongst the students, and the Una flogging have cut across all Dalit sub castes to forge new unity. Reports from the ground in UP suggest that a return to the old Kanshi Ram formula for Dalit unity is finding takers on the ground, with the BSP mentor once telling this writer while forming his first government in UP that he would bring all but the Jatavs into the cabinet to ensure that this unity strengthened and deepened. That it did not is of course, part of the larger UP story.
The Muslims, now with the Samajwadi party and to a far lesser extent the Congress in UP, are influenced by the turn of events in Gujarat and are looking at the Dalit alternative with interest. The infighting within the Samajwadi party is a matter of concern, for all who had voted for the party with the Rajputs, Muslims and Yadavs looking for other alternatives in the state.
The BJP is playing on upper caste consolidation, the Congress is working to divide this by targeting the Brahmin vote in particular, while all the non-BJP parties are wooing the sizeable Muslim electorate in the state. However, initial reports suggest that the BSP is now being perceived as a serious contender by the minorities, looking for security and a life away from the violence that has overtaken the state since the past two years. More so in Western UP.
The gau rakshaks have targeted the Muslims and the Dalits (interestingly not the Christians on this issue) forging a bond without clearly intending to. Muslims and Dalits see a commonality of purpose, brone out of the need to find a dignificed space in democratic India. Mayawati has made an impressive beginning but it remains to be seen whether the new affinities will translate into votes.