NEW DELHI: The political parties have clearly lost the leadership, not just in Kashmir, but across India with major protests breaking out different parts of the country without clear cut leaders. The Dalit stir in Gujarat is one such instance, with all political parties caught off guard,and now rushing at varying levels to catch up with the protesters.

The Gujarat Dalit stir led by the youth was an almost immediate, and by all accounts a spontaneous protest against the flogging of four Dalit youth by vigilantes of a Gau Raksha Samiti, seen by most as an offshoot of the BJP/RSS in and outside the state. The impunity with which the vigilantes took a video of the public beating and posted it on the social media as an act of justice, touched a raw nerve that had already been exposed in the years of governance where Dalit welfare had not just taken a backseat, but was under constant attack.

The outpouring of anger on the streets took the political parties by surprise, but also shook the Opposition out of its somnambulance that even the July 11 incident of flogging at Una had not done.

Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel did her usual mix of police action, arrests of Dalit youth and visits to the relatives that did little to allay the tension. The Opposition finally raised the issue in Parliament, and since then leaders from the Congress, Left and Aam Aadmi party have been visiting the affected families But all are still flummoxed about the absence of a visible leader and the large scale nature of the leaderless protests.

In Kashmir similar kind of protests by the youth are being laid at Pakistans door by the ruling establishment and sections of the media. In Gujarat no one has an answer to the one question: who is the leader of the Dalit protests. Dalit scholar Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd acknowledged the absence of a leadership,expressing some worry about what form or direction such a stir could take.

Currently of course, all the Opposition parties with political ambitions in Gujarat---particularly AAP and Congress--- are trying to establish contact with the local youth although it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no leadership.

Pratik Sinha of the Jan Sangharsh Manch that is supporting the Dalit protests, confirmed that it was a leaderless, spontaneous outburst. He said that anger amongst the Dalits had been simmering for a while “as such incidents keep happening.” He said in the Una case the video had gone viral and acted as a catalyst in bringing Dalit youth on to the streets, but end June too in the same area a custodial death of a Dalit had sparked off tensions. The authorities had, of course passed it off a suicide.

The bandh call, after the Dalit youth across Gujarat had taken to the streets this time, was given by an obscure, tiny organisation Dalit Panthers. It was supported by others, in that trade union workers, Muslim organisations and others joined the Dalits to ensure that the shutdown call was successful, as it was even in Ahmedabad particularly the west of the city.

Till date while small organisations and individuals have emerged as local supporters---not yet leaders---the larger political parties are now following the lead given by the Dalit masses in Gujarat with an eye on the forthcoming elections. Sources said that the silence of PM Modi and the central government has not helped the state in its efforts to assuage sentiments with the Dalit youth, in interviews to the local media, talking of the humiliation and the isolation they feel as a result.

Interestingly, the protests were in response to local discrimination with Pratik Sinha and others admitting that larger issues of Dalit welfare, like the Rohila Vemula suicide in Hyderabad Central University, has not had the same impact in Gujarat as in say Uttar Pradesh.This is largely because the Dalits in Gujarat do not have any leadership that like BSP leader Mayawati in UP, campaigned in the villages on macro issues. “They are reacting to what is happening to them on the ground” the activists said maintaining that while the situation is calm now, the tensions remain.

In Kashmir too the mass protests were largely leaderless, in 2010 and again now. In 2010 the provocation came from civilian deaths in police firing; in 2016 the masses went on to the ground in protest against their marginalisation with Hizbul commander Burhan Wani’s death being the catalyst.According to the government Pakistan was leading these protests But as Sinha pointed out from Gujarat, echoing views here as well, “Pakistan is meddling but to say that masses who have come on to the streets are all Pakistan inspired just does not sell.” The Congress and National Conference, as well as the entire Opposition in Parliament, have pointed to the same during a recent discussion, flaying the government for the use of unrestrained force on the Kashmiri youth.

In Gujarat the police used tear gas shells and lathis to disperse the crowds. Over 22 Dalits tried to commit suicide, one died, and the passions were clearly high and the anger took over two days to get off the streets. The political leadership is now getting into the fray, with all out efforts to reach out to the Dalits. Interestingly the locals make a difference between this stir and that of the Patels, where Hardik Patel is reported to have been encouraged with money and support from “others” to mobilise the community, However, again as a local Congress leader pointed out, “the support he got of course was not bought, and the Patidar youth are clearly upset and angry.”

The Anandiben Patel government is clearly out of its depth with the Dalits, Patels and of course the Muslims alienated along with workers and others. The BJP has been in the state for 1995, with the iron grip on Gujarat being shaken recently by the local elections where it was virtually trounced in the rural areas by the only other political party in the state, the Congress.

The fact remains at the end of the day that while the electoral process will ensure that the harvest of such discontent is reaped by one or more political parties in any state, the youth of marginalised communities in India are moving of their own volition and no longer looking at the political system for answers.

That alone should make all political parties sit up and ask themselves the one question: where have we gone so horribly wrong?