Tuesday, 21 March, 2023
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17th Lok Sabha looks set to confirm Ambedkar’s fears: no vocal Dalits in Parliament

India has a dichotomous situation — vocal Dalits in college campuses and on the streets, and silent Dalits in Parliament.

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In a few days from now, the 17th Lok Sabha will be constituted. And one unique feature of the new Lok Sabha would be that it will not have any vocal Dalit leader of national stature. Only notable exception is likely to be Prakash Ambedkar — the three-time MP and grandson of Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar who is fighting a three-cornered battle in the Solapur constituency in Maharashtra.

The most popular Dalit face of Indian politics, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati, is not contesting the Lok Sabha elections. The last time she had contested a Lok Sabha poll was in 2004. Another prominent Dalit leader and once a contender for the post of prime minister, Ram Vilas Paswan is also not in the fray. Paswan, who has won as many as nine Lok Sabha elections, has opted for a Rajya Sabha seat this time instead. His shift to the Upper House is part of the seat-sharing agreement between his Lok Janshakti Party, and the allies BJP and JDU in Bihar. Republican Party of India (RPI) leader and a former Dalit Panther, Ramdas Athawale is already in the Rajya Sabha, courtesy the BJP, and won’t fight the Lok Sabha election. It is the same with the Congress party’s most prominent Dalit face, PL Punia, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP made its Dalit leader Udit Raj, the vocal MP from North West Delhi, wait too long for the ticket only to deny it at the last moment. The party thus scuttled all chances of him contesting the Lok Sabha election, not even as an Independent candidate. Udit Raj later joined the Congress, saying the BJP wants its Dalit leaders to remain ‘deaf and dumb’. Other articulate Dalit voices like D Raja, Prof BL Mungekar and Narendra Jadhav are also members of the Rajya Sabha and won’t be entering the 17th Lok Sabha.

Also read: BJP is denying ticket to vocal Dalit MPs like Udit Raj because they just won’t fall in line

Only ‘reserved’ representation

But it’s not as if no Dalit leader is contesting the Lok Sabha elections this time. Constitutional provisions guarantee 84 members in the Lok Sabha since these many constituencies in the country are reserved for candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes (there are 47 other seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes). Moreover, Dalits can contest the general election from unreserved constituencies. But even if no Dalit candidate gets elected from an unreserved constituency, there will still be 84 Dalit MPs in the Lower House.

Will that not be sufficient for the Dalit representation?

No, it won’t. The proceedings of the 16th Lok Sabha show that barring a few Dalit MPs, no one raised Dalit issues in Parliament or spoke up on matters concerning the community in the media during the Modi rule. For instance, on the Supreme Court diluting stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, other than Udit Raj and Ram Vilas Paswan, none spoke up. But they spoke only when the Modi government, sensing the anger of Dalits as demonstrated in the 2 April 2018 Bharat Bandh and the ensuing violence, brought a bill to nullify the impacts of the Supreme Court order. Parliament passed the bill in August, restoring the original provisions of the SC/ST Act.

Even when the University Grants Commission (UGC) issued a notification which had a direct impact on the recruitment of SC/ST/OBC teachers in central universities and colleges, almost all Dalit MPs kept quiet. As anger built up over the UGC roster, the Modi government was forced to promulgate an ordinance to correct the anomaly. Dalit MPs’ silence was similarly acute in cases of atrocities, like the suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula (Dalits have called it an ‘institutional murder’) or the 2016 Una flogging incident, whose victims continue to seek justice from the government by staging hunger strike to this day.

Also read: India needs Muslim neuroscientists and Dalit Fields medalists among its STEM researchers

This leads to a dichotomous situation — vocal Dalits in college campuses and on the streets, and silent Dalits in Parliament.

Why is there a need for articulate Dalit MPs in Parliament to raise issues on behalf of the community? Can’t this be taken care of by the non-Dalit MPs? No, not in a democracy which is all about representation. When only the designated ‘wise men’ can speak, it is a plutocracy — the antithesis of democracy.

One possible explanation for why Dalit MPs don’t speak up for the community can be found in the Gandhi-Ambedkar debate during the second Round Table Conference (1931) and in the Poona Pact (1932). It was about the method of representation, especially for the depressed classes. As demanded by the untouchables and also according to the scheme of the British India government, Dalits (regarded as untouchables at the time) could have likely had separate electorate in the assembly elections, where they would have elected their own representatives.

But Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to this and had a vehement disagreement with Babasaheb Ambedkar on the issue. Gandhi went on a fast unto death to oppose the separate electorate for the untouchables, forcing Ambedkar to a compromise. In the Poona Pact that was subsequently signed, a provision was made under which some constituencies were reserved for the Dalits with voting rights given to all citizens. And this is how the proposal empowering the community to elect its own voice was scuttled.

Why reserved constituency is bad for Dalits

Not a single constituency in India has more than 50 per cent Dalit population, which means it’s always the non-Dalits who decide the fate of Dalit candidates in reserved constituencies. A vocal or assertive Dalit leader has the least chance of winning from such seats. To be re-elected, a Dalit MP must be careful not to antagonise the non-Dalits, and one way of ensuring this is by remaining silent in Parliament.

Also read: ‘Eating with Dalits’ is only a photo-op and election strategy for the BJP

One of the finest intellectuals of his times, Babasaheb Ambedkar knew this very well. He lost the Lok Sabha elections twice — in 1952 from Bombay North Central and in 1954 from Bhandara seat (now Bhandara-Gondiya) in a bypoll. Ambedkar died in 1956 without being elected to the Lok Sabha.

BSP founder Kanshi Ram tried to evolve a mechanism of forging alliance with backward castes and minorities to break this logjam, but received only limited success. We are still stuck in a situation where a party like the BJP, which many would consider as anti-Dalit or pro-upper caste, wins a large number of reserved seats.

Importance of articulate Dalit leaders in Lok Sabha

The Lower House is where the real power of the Indian democracy resides. Only the Lok Sabha has powers on financial matters. These powers are exercised through three committees – the estimates committee, public accounts committee, and committee on public undertakings. Arvind Kumar, a Political Science scholar pursuing his PhD on inequality from University of London, had collected data for these committees and concluded that Dalits MPs are hardly present or participate in the proceedings of these committees.

So, we have a situation where around 20 crore Dalit population, or every sixth Indian, has almost no say on how public money is used. This is a cause for alarm that should warrant serious deliberations. Can the separate electorate for the Dalits be a viable solution? The nation must decide.

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  2. The author is still stuck with antiquated notions for Indian politics from 20-30 years ago. How can he claim the BJP is an anti-Dalit or pro Upper Caste party when for at least since 2014 as per polling data they’ve been getting more Dalit votes than any other party in India? The author thinks ONLY non-Dalit voters decide who wins SC reserved seats.

  3. Keeping in view party discipline, the reserved MPs can’t have their own agenda. The community should consolidate using religious and cultural platforms and invite these representatives. This may show good results.

  4. Is there any need for a Dalit MP to speak on Dalit issues in Parliament. His/her seat is assured by the general voters and not the Dalit voters. At most, the seat will go to someone else from his political brotherhood. The Dalit MPs tread a tight rope. To utter a word in Parliament can be suicidal for him. Who will take that risk? In fact, non-Dalit MPs have the duty and responsibility to speak for Dalits. The real rivalry is between a Dalit and another Dalit. A fair analysis of the activities of the Dalit political leaders mentioned in the above article will verify this fact. It looks that Dalits are doing a disservice to Dr. Ambedkar. If a non-Dalit try to eulogize Dr. Ambedkar, the Dalits say that he is hijacking Dr. Ambedkar. Even if the Prime Minister of India declares that Dr. Ambedkar was a real Nation Builder, the Dalits doubt PM’s sincerity. Dalits have come a long way. More than the MPs, the Dalit Bureaucrats have to come forward. My personal experience is that for Dalits the non-Dalits are their well-wishers than their own brethren.

  5. Sadly you have not accounted for Thol Thirumavalavan who is contesting from Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. He has been a vocal MP in the past, and he is easily the tallest leader in Tamil Nadu; vocal, articulate, well-read and a people’s person, he has raised standards of civic behaviour in the state. that as usual are not being taken note of.

    More than anything else, he has galvanised a substantial section of young voters into supporting him, including from non-dalit communities.

    I do wish that poll critics visit the South of India, to take note of all that has transpired here the last decade and more.

    • Dear Friend, for these Journalist If you are not Chamar cast, then he will not include them in dalit Leader it does not matter you are a good and vocal leader of dalit community, & for South Indian Dalit , he does not count them as a Dalit Leader, Because That leader does not belongs to BSP or mayawati. I am 200% sure he can not tell 5 dalit Leader of from South India.

  6. The great Visionary Bharatha Rathna D.R.B.R.Ambedkar told long back , that the MPs elected from other parties will be stooges of the party and leader and will not raise voice for the Dalits. The Dalit MPs mentioned in the article are all stooges with self interest. This is not the only one what Baba Saheb told became true many more things he told and which people ridiculed have become true. The only leader then , now and forever for Dalits if Baba Saheb only.

  7. The Serial Instigator cum liar (refer his earlier article on so-called privileges of brahmins) designated as “Sr Journallist” is at again. Inventing bogus issues and behaving as so-called dalit representative in the media. It seems there is a reservation in The Print for publishing such sectarian nonsense. Using his logic one can easily question, in the last fifty years, how many Brahmin/Rajput/Gupta MPs have opened their mouths for protection of Brahmin/Rajput/Gupta citizen rights.? Has a single MP (of any caste) ever opened his mouth against the caste atrocities against Brahmins in TN? What about Brahmin/Rajput/Gupta MPs passing laws like SCST Act to punish their own kith and kin?

    • @ Ramesh, Nice Response . NoBody Questions Multimillionaires Dalits / OBCs. NoBody Questions the Unsuccessful Reservations. NoBody Questions How Reservations have further Divided Society. The Author should Expose the Racket of the Creamy Layer of Dalits who still claim Reservations. The Author should also have the balls to Discuss Economic Criteria v/s Birth Criteria. Almost all Politicians across all Parties have only one agenda : SELF PROMOTION. What did the Great Kanshi Ram leave us ? A MULTI MILIONAIRE CORRUPT CHAMMAR KII BETI ?

  8. Let, any Dalit be the representative of the members of Scheduled Caste, but it seems nobody had followed, the Hinduism as ordered by the Constitution ( Scheduled Caste) Order 1950, para 4, which states as *notwithstanding anything contained in para 2( only the caste or Dalit), no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism, shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste*.

    The word Hinduism, mentioned in this Order is mere a word.

    It seems both the word Hinduism and Dalit are different to each other.

    With mere word Hindusm the Hinduism cannot be professed.

    For clarification of this word,
    Dr Ambedkar submitted Hindu Code Bill. I think so.

    As this was not approved he resigned his Law Minister post.

    As on date no Dalit MP has not taken similar step like this. They avail the Reservation.

    It seems they satisfy themselves with this Word Hinduism alone.

    It seems they are creating 5th Varna in Hinduism – against the wish of Dr Ambedkar.

  9. Such a realistic analysis on political conditions of dalit how so call upper class leadership destroying our baba sahab dream. He always tried his best to make dalit contributions in Indian sociopolitical life. But there is need to make dalit peoples awake from sleep.

  10. Good to see media houses like The Print is coming out with interesting subjects. I feel the only option is these 84 MPs to speak up only.. As long as the reservation exists, 84 seats will remain. The MPs should take the courage to speak at least to Dalit issues in which the other MPs may not be interested. What the current election shows is that many parties find it difficult to identify eligible Dalits to contest in the seats. So if a Dalit MP shows mettle, he or she is going to get a second term.

  11. 1 This is good analysis of Dalit politics. We know that there are many parties which claim to protect and further interests of Dalits. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Smt Mayawati, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) of Prakash Ambedkar, Republican Party of India (Ramdas Athavale faction) are three main political parties who claim to fight for the SC, ST & OBC communities. In the Southern States there are more. 2. Though Dalit and Dalit-centric parties claim to be working for welfare of their community, on account of castes and sub-castes among Dalits there is lack of coordination amongst these parties. 3. As I see it, there are two main issues or problems faced by Dalits today: (a) Job opportunities: in private sector they are scarce and they are increasing in the government sector too. (b)Dalits’ political voice is not as powerful as it should be essentially because they lack unity. My view is that leaders of these different Dalit political parties have to show magnanimity and remain united. They must be ready to do what is called ‘give and take’ with other parties too, and above all, shun opportunistic politics (which I consider is the basis of alliance of BSP & SP in Uttar Pradesh). 4. Further, I believe that in order to be able to be really effective in Lok Sabha and elsewhere, it is necessary for all these Dalit parties to do what is called Strengths Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities or SWOT analysis. SWOT analysis has to be followed by subsequent corrective action. Then only SWOT would be useful to make Dalits real contenders for a share of power-pie.

  12. This author should mention how many OBCs are there in the Parliament without reservations and what are they doing about protection for Dalits?

  13. This article says that Dalit MP have no power and dalit have no choice to chose to their candidate ,this is the very bad situtation in current senerio so all should know

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