Why Dalits deserted BJP: activist Ashok Bharti explains

Ashok Bharti, the chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations, explains to The Squirrels' Bhupendra Chaubey what made Scheduled Castes dump the BJP in the 2024 election after supporting the party in previous elections

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Why Dalits deserted BJP

Why Dalits deserted the BJP

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Ashok Bharti, chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations, elucidates to Bhupendra Chaubey of The Squirrels the reasons behind the Scheduled Castes' decision to withdraw support from the BJP in the 2024 election, despite having backed the party in the previous Lok Sabha and Uttar Pradesh elections. The broad points Bharti made during the interview follow.

According to the Dalit thinker, flaunting one's OBC identity is insufficient; Prime Minister Narendra Modi's actions spoke louder than words. He said the prime minister focused on aiding the impoverished as a whole, not just the Scheduled Castes. He said the prime minister acknowledged his OBC background but did not emphasise being an OBC PM.

Prime Minister Modi, Bharti claimed, consistently rejected the existence of the caste system in India, as does the larger Sangh Parivar.

In 2024, Prime Minister Modi repeated the same error that Rahul Gandhi made in 2014 and 2019, Bharti theorised, adding that advocating for the poor could potentially overshadow the image of supporting OBCs or Scheduled Castes.

Bharti made a distinction between poverty as an economic classification and caste being a social construct. the Scheduled Castes prioritise, he said, social justice over economic advancement. the Scheduled Castes seek policies that provide equal opportunities, he pointed out.

The BJP successfully built a significant OBC voter base, Bharti acknowledged but qualified it with the observation that the BJP struggled to effectively engage in identity politics.

The NDA campaign in Bihar resonated with OBCs due to Nitish Kumar's leadership, who wasn't seen as a disingenuous OBC leader, unlike the prime minister, Bharti said. Tejashvi Yadav who failed, on the other hand, could benefit from studying Akhilesh Yadav's strategies, he added.

Akhilesh Yadav's PDA (Pichhda, Dalit, Alpsankhyak) pitch bore fruit for the opposition alliance, Bharti noted and found a mutual contradiction in the prime minister's claiming to extricate people out of poverty and also provided for them, which the Dalits found condescending.

Before the Constitution of India was adopted, Scheduled Castes believe, according to Bharti, the nation's socio-economic conditions were dire. Dalits were historically denied access to public amenities, he said.

He recalled that even the Bihar Chief Minister Karpuri Thakur at one point was prohibited from resting on his cot. Upper castes may struggle to comprehend such social injustices as they have not experienced them, he said.

The constitution granted Scheduled Castes rights they were previously deprived of, Bharti asserted while dismissing the fact pointed out by Chaubey that most cases of caste discrimination in Purvanchal were such where Yadavs were the prime accused. Various powerful groups have exploited Dalits, he said, adding that blaming only Yadavs was unjust.

Dalits were concerned about the potential threat to the constitution that safeguarded the rights of the Scheduled Castes, he noted when certain BJP leaders suggested they needed 400 seats to amend the constitution.

Amid explanations for Dalits' disenchantment for the BJP, Bharti stokes controversy

Bharti entered a contentious territory when he remarked that Hindu scriptures like the Manusmriti and Ramayana had been discriminatory towards the Scheduled Castes. Furthermore, he referenced the story of Shambuka, a character not found in Valmiki Ramayana, to suggest that the BJP's defeat in Ayodhya was seen as a form of Dalit retaliation against Rama.

This election was critical for the Scheduled Castes, the activist remarked, likening it to a 'make or break' situation.

As per Bharti, Mayawati's era has ended and her party's influence has waned. the Scheduled Castes do not align with a specific party, he observed, but they support ideas that protect their interests.

Dalits wield significant political influence that can sway outcomes, Bharti claimed, adding that if some OBC groups were to unite with Scheduled Castes, they could potentially form governments in certain states like Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha.

Bharti highlighted the efforts of both Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav in uniting Dalits under the banner of I.N.D.I.A. He also pointed out that Dalits had previously backed VP Singh when OBCs, led by figures like Mulayam Singh Yadav, did not support the re-introduction of the BP Mandal Commission report. 

Bharti emphasised that Rahul Gandhi's consistent advocacy for Dalit representation in positions of authority resonated with Dalit voters.

According to Bharti, Akhilesh Yadav strategically fielded Scheduled Caste candidates in key constituencies, contrasting with the BJP's candidate selection which leaned towards upper castes. He also mentioned that the BJP's approach to projecting their respective castes in the 2022 elections was more strategic. Bharti suggested that merely supporting OBCs was insufficient, and Prime Minister Modi should have actively promoted it.

Akhilesh Yadav uttar pradesh Bihar Tejashvi Yadav VP Singh OBC Scheduled Castes Dalit Narendra Modi BJP