This is with reference to 'When the Elephant disappears' (The Hindu, 5 January, 2015). A very general principle in research methodology is that generalizations are not possible if the sampling in a research is purposive. In this context to argue that, 'one party which could benefit the most from the decline of the BSP is BJP, whose vote share among Dalits in the Lok Sabha election doubled from 12 percent to 24 percent' raises a few problems. One, is BSP the only party which has lost its Dalit voters in the 2014 Lok Sabha election? Second, is BJP the only party which has gained the dalit votes lost by BSP? The answer to both the questions is negative. Taking clue from CSDS data given in the write-up we can observe that from 2009 to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BSP and Congress have both lost 6 and 8 percent of Dalit votes respectively. That means compared to BSP, Congress has lost more Dalit votes than BSP. Then why single out BSP? Why is the write-up silent about the fact that if BSP is losing its Dalit votes then Congress has lost more Dalit votes than BSP?
Further, there cannot be a straight equation between BSP's loss of Dalit votes and BJP's gain of the same. The write-up itself suggests that in states like Delhi and Punjab AAP has also gained Dalit votes. Then how can one draw such a simple equation that BSP's Dalit votes are necessarily shifting to BJP? It might be possible that Dalit votes may be shifting to the other regional political parties like AAP or Lok Janshakti Party or any other political party. Therefore, one needs nuanced analysis of regional variations before making such a conclusive and emphatic statement. It is all the more important to do so because on the basis of mere observation it seems that Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) have lost more Dalit votes to BJP as they have lost more Scheduled Caste Parliamentary seats than BSP. In this regard in 2009 Congress, SP and BSP had won 29, 10 and 3 SC reserved seats respectively. However, in 2014 Congress could only win 7 SC reserved seats and SP none. On the other hand BJP has raised its tally of SC reserved seats from 13 in 2009 to 38 in 2014. Hence it is anybody's guess whose SC reserved seats and thereby Dalit votes BJP has won in 2014.
Those who are professing today that BJP has gained substantial access to Dalit votes and it is at the cost of BSP's core Dalit votes, what are they trying to argue? Do they mean that till now it was BSP only which was responsible for stopping the growth of BJP by denying it access to Dalit votes? Or put differently, it is BSP which had weaned out Dalits from BJP? Because till now we have never heard anyone who has argued that BSP has in any way been responsible for halting the growth of BJP. No one has highlighted BSP's roles in checking the communal conflicts and their polarization during its rule 2007-12 in Uttar Pradesh. However, today when BJP has gained access to Dalit votes BSP is being held responsible for its success.
BJP gives Dalits a raw deal
As far as claims of the write-up that BJP is running a well designed electoral strategy to draw support among the dalit community, it does not look practical as well. It is so because BJP has taken assistance from Ram Vilas Paswan, and Ramdas Athavale, who have their own political outfits without much political clout whatsoever. On the contrary, BJP has undermined and sidelined its own Dalit leaders like Sanjay Paswan (Anusuchit Jati Morcha Chief during election period), Satyanarayn Jatiya (8 times Lok Sabha election winner) and Ramnath Kovid etc. to name just a few. In the same vein BJP has not been able to project any Dalit leader of substance from within its own rank as its Dalit face. Rather they are trying to import Dalit leaders from outside (like Udit Raj in Delhi and Kaushal Kishore in Luckonw) which cannot be considered a good strategy. Specifically, in the Hindi heartland of -UP, Bihar, MP, HP, Punjab, Haryana, Chattisgrah, Jharkhand etc. and other big states like- Karnataka, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, BJP has miserably failed to project any Dalit leader and thereby at the national level. How are Dalits going to identify with the party? If that is the ground reality then how can we argue that BJP is running a well designed electoral strategy to garner Dalit support? Except Thawar Chand Gehlot who is a tested RSS cadre not even one Dalit leader enjoys an effective position of influence either in the party or in the government.
Congress and Representation of Dalits
Compared to BJP today, Dalits argue, that their representation in the influential positions during the Congress government was far, far better. There were at least 6 influential ministers or functionaries during Congress regime who enjoyed lots of clout. To begin with, Congress elevated a Dalit woman to the post of 'Speaker of Lok Sabha', look who is the choice of BJP, they argue. Similarly, Sushil Kumar Shinde was home minister, BJP's choice is Rajnath Singh a Thakur from UP. Mallikarjun Kharge was the Railway Minister, and Km. Selja was the Minister of Cultural Affairs before she replaced Mukul Wasnik, the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. Hence, BJP has totally failed to provide Dalits any effective representation in the government to attract more Dalit support. In fact BJP has failed to accommodate any Dalit leader for the post of governor. During Vajpayee's regime, at least, there were a few governors from the Dalit community- Suraj Bhan was UP's governor and Bhai Parmanand was governor of MP. No such effort is being made on the part of BJP today. Apart from this, Congress nominated many Dalits to Rajya Sabha also. It made Dalits members of Planning Commission, Chairman of University Grants Commission and ICSSR and a number of Vice Chancellors in Central and State universities. In this context a pertinent question can be asked that even after giving Dalits high profile representation in diverse fields Dalits have deserted Congress then why would they stick to BJP when it is becoming clear to them that BJP is not giving them any effective representation both in the party and the government?
Dr Vivek Kumar is Prof of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Former Visiting Prof. Columbia University, NY.