Young Leaders Fire the Dalit Imagination, Old Marginalise Themselves
NEW DELHI: Just as the last remnants of the Dalit leadership had joined what passes for the mainstream, two major Dalit leaders have emerged from Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Jignesh Mewani who came on centre stage in the wake of the massive post-Una atrocities stir that he organised and led has been joined now by another young man, 30 year old Chandrashekhar from Uttar Pradesh who has emerged from the Saharanpur stir.
The old leaders have succumbed to the lure of comfort in different forms, losing the little fire they had been credited with by joining the Congress and now the Bharatiya Janata Party. In 2014 the BJP that came to power in Delhi was particularly successful in enticing the old Janata Party and Dalit Sena leader Ram Vilas Paswan who is now a Minister in the Union Cabinet and never heard since of speaking for the cause he had claimed to so passionately espouse. Udit Raj who came into the media spotlights many years ago by organising government employees also lost the proverbial fire in his belly over the years, and is now ensconced as a BJP Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.
Republican Party of India’s Ram Das Athawale also moved out of the remnants of the Dalit politics he was at one time a vocal leader for, and has joined the NDA as an ally of the BJP. Prakash Ambedkar remains outside and at this point closer to the Opposition, but again not particularly active except sporadically.
In fact, of the entire lot of the older Dalit leaders Mayawati remains in the saddle leading her Bahujan Samaj party. She contested the recent Assembly elections, lost badly and recently has fallen silent after some reports that old cases against her could be opened. So much so that she did not even visit Saharanpur, the site of a major clash between Thakurs and Dalits, and except for a cursory initial statement has remained fairly silent on the issue.
On the other had a new crop of Dalit leaders have emerged out of the continuing atrocities on the one community that has been steadfastly discriminated against. There are many young people involved in mobilising the community to stand up for its rights, as was visible in the huge response at Jantar Mantar on Sunday in New Delhi. The person behind this mobilisation was a 30 year old lawyer Chandrashekhar, but many others belonging to different outfits---Bhim Army, Bhim Sena---have been working hard in the field. As former IG Darapuri told The Citizen earlier most of the new young leaders are Ambedkarites, and sensitive about their rights and about the issue of justice.
The one reason why the upper castes in Saharanpur could not brow beat the sizeable Dalit population into submission has been the presence of the young people, who had been holding Pathshalas in the region to educate the Dalits about their rights. Chandrashekhar emerged from hiding in Delhi on Sunday with a soul stirring speech to enthusiastic and responsive thousands.
Jagnish Mewani who had led a massive demonstration in Gujarat, not so long ago against the flogging of Dalit youth in Una, was also present.
Mewani had led a march through Gujarat that culminated at Una with people from different parts of the country joining the Dalits in their assertion for equality and justice. Mewani has been active since, and has not joined any political party. The new leaders are not with any of the established political parties, preferring to work directly with the masses.
The major political parties are all compromised on the issue of social justice and equity. The Congress party’s so called Dalit leaders like Sushil Kumar Shinde and the present leader in the Lok Sabha Malik Arjun Khagde barely command a following in the community, and rarely speak on issues of direct concern. The new leaders through painstaking work on the ground, are attracting the Dalits in large numbers now as unlike the elders, carry the courage of their conviction.