The Bihar election is a blow to the ruling BJP and the Hindutva parties associated with it. It should further upset those who came with the exit poll results, including the CSDS. The media, especially the English press and electronic media should be ashamed of talking against the alliance of RJD, JD (U); some even referred to it as an 'unholy' alliance, calling it a 'caste alliance'. These presses did not have the sincerity to say that SCs and the caste Hindus were in alliance in the BJP.
On the other hand, the results are a decisive happy sign to the rest of the parties and especially those who have been fighting against the violence based on religion being unleashed by the BJP and its agenda to make India a Hindu India. Though, we should realize that India is already a Hindu India and the root of Hinduism, the Caste system, is protected by the Indian Constitution (it only bans untouchability and not the system itself). The judiciary, bureaucracy and academia, all of them have been peddling soft core Hindutva in India all this while.
In this context, we should recall that only a year ago The Hindu office in Chennai circulated an official order signed by the Vice President, Human Resources, saying that Non-Vegetarian food will not be allowed in the canteen. Later, one of the writers in a news portal said even in their office non-veg is not allowed. Now we learn that even the Times of India follows the same 'strictly vegetarian only' policy. None of the protesting writers, activists now returning awards etc. ever protested against the growing intolerance of caste Hindus in villages attacking Dalits and Adivasis. Then what are they protesting against now? These writers and activists are protesting against a state, which they think is now becoming a Hindu nation through violence. We should remember that most of them are Gandhians, who believe that non-violent means of change are important and all these years they have been doing just this. Till now, they did not have any problem when, structurally, the bureaucracy and the administration were being systematically hinduised.
Dalit parties and the Bihar results
These results should shake up dalit parties, especially LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) and HAMS (Hindustani Awam Morcha - Secular), not because the BJP led alliance lost, but because of the vote shares that LJP and HAMS have received. The data shows that the vote share of LJP and HAMS is 4.8% and 2.2% respectively. Taken together with the BSP's 2.2%, the total share of all the dalit parties comes to 9.2%. Remember, the total population of SCs in Bihar is around 15.72% and that of STs around 0.91%.
LJP has been losing its vote share since the February 2005 election, when they got 12%, and in the same year in November, their vote share was reduced to 11%. In the present assembly election, they received only about 5% vote share. This reflects a very bad situation for them.
In 2005, in alliance with Congress, they contested in 178 seats and won 29 and their vote share was 12.62%. In the same year, elections were called again as no party had a clear majority. In the re-election, LJP went alone, contesting in 203 seats and won only in 10, and their vote share was 11.10%. In 2010 they contested, in an alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal, in 75 seats, and won only in 3 seats. Their vote share was 6.75%. In 2015, they contested with BJP in 40 seats and won in 2 seats and their vote share has been reduced to 4.8%.
Ram Vilas Paswan should rethink his voter arithmetic and forge better alliances. It is clear that his alliance with BJP has only reduced his vote share. And being a dalit led party certainly makes it impossible for LJP to become a mainstream party. Therefore forging alliances remains one of the crucial factors for its electoral success. Dalit political parties should also learn some lessons from the mainstream parties. Though the mainstream parties are led by caste Hindus, they still go to their voters and embrace them, even when they spend huge amounts during the election. Take the case of YS Rajashekar Reddy who lost the election in AP to TDP in 1999, yet he galvanised his voters by taking a long walk to every constituency and trying to know the interests of the public. Same is the case with TDP's Chandrababu Naidu; and now K. Stalin of DMK is going to different constituencies to show that he is available to the masses. But what have these dalit politicians been doing? Thol. Thirumavalavan of VCK goes only to different caste Hindu parties for forging alliances. Now and then you find him in some public meetings.
Hence, it is important that these dalit leaders, instead of courting mainstream political parties, should at least regularly visit their voters to keep their support base intact.
It is also important to remember that not all dalits are politically aware and no dalit politicians should take their share of dalit voters for granted. (These parties certainly know that their only vote share is basically from their own caste population.) That is one of the crucial differences between the caste hndu vote share and the dalit vote share. Apart from all this, Ram Vilas Paswan should learn to embrace fellow dalits. When he could align with BJP, it would be better to least bridge an alliance with other dalit parties. This is even true for the VCK leader Thol. Thirumavalavan. He goes to different caste hindu parties for an alliance but never reaches out to fellow dalit leaders. This is one of the major problems with all dalit parties in India, that they go to any caste hindu party for alliance, at times even at the cost of their self-respect, but they will never reach out to fellow dalit parties. There is a big lesson for dalit political parties to learn from the alliance of RJD and JD(U) in Bihar.
Dalits losing hope in dalit politicians
But what have these dalit parties done to break the caste order? They have only consolidated their caste votes and become exclusive parties of one caste each, which is not the same case with other caste Hindu parties, which embrace all communities.
It is also important to note that dalit politicians often claim that in an alliance they get only reserved constituencies. This argument has been discarded in the Bihar elections. Most of the seats contested by LJP were in general constituencies rather than reserved constituencies. Also, Dalit politicians argue that in any given assembly constituency they have to embrace the caste Hindus, which makes them helpless in addressing the interest of dalits. These points are particularly articulated by Thol. Thirumavalavan, leader of the VCK in Tamil Nadu. It is true that in his constituency Perambalur, where he is the ex MP, his own caste members were not allowed to wear slippers or walk on the road which goes through caste Hindu neighbourhoods. If that is the case, then why do they have to contest elections asserting often that they are dalit parties? Even the educated dalits take them for granted as these are dalit parties that represent the interests of only dalits. Actually, these points are raised only as tactics to escape criticism.
All these parties, when they emerged seeking to represent dalits, did initially secure good vote shares, which they then sold to the mainstream parties. After getting into alliances and winning seats, these parties started to enjoy the opium of power and forgot the dalit population. As a result, the dalit population (including their own caste people) started losing hope in these dalit politicians and this is a trend across India.
Interestingly, dalit political parties which claim to represent one particular Scheduled Caste (always the leader's caste) each, have ditched their own caste members too. These leaders who never talk about their own caste's problems - how can we even imagine that they would extend an offer of ideological alliance to fellow Scheduled Castes? The educated dalit masses seem to fall into the trap of supporting dalit parties representing their own particular caste/s, and most of the time, this is personal rather than political. In this context, educated dalit masses should also develop a critical understanding of dalit political parties and also critically evaluate their own contribution to the movement because till date it looks like a lot of the educated Dalits are more comfortable with accusing the non-dalits rather often, while avoiding the slightest criticism of themselves. To point out one incident, recently an Arundhathiyar boy married a Paraiyar girl in Dindigul. The VCK cadres reportedly went and thrashed those who arranged the couple's marriage. Ravikumar, a prominent intellectual in Tamil Nadu, seemed more bothered about attacking and degrading arundhathiyars than even critically evaluating the upliftment of his own caste members.
A positive point I wish to make about these dalit politicians: I wish to argue that their contribution has been more than that of the educated dalits because it is these politicians who have been pushing crucial issues in parliament. Especially on the issues of reservation and other controversies related to SCs. In other words, they at least try to protect the legislations provided to SC/STs. But what have the educated dalits (not all, but many) done? Nothing other than consolidating their individual castes' interests and polarizing Dalits.
Dr B. Ravichandran is a founding member of Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes. Currently he is a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Shimla.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.