Of the several books authored by former journalist and BJP politician Arun Shourie, Worshipping False Gods is an insight into the Right’s view on BR Ambedkar. Critical of Ambedkar’s ideology, his agitations for democratic values and struggles for social justice, Shourie gives a peek into the BJP’s politics towards the Dalits. The book attracted widespread criticism and protests when it was published. Nearly two decades later, Dalit leaders, like Ramvilas Paswan, Udit Raj and Ramdas Athawale, are vying to share the centrestage with the BJP.
On 14 April, on the occasion of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi, wore a blue jacket and offered flowers to the architect of the Indian Constitution. He bowed in front of Ambedkar’s portrait and said that it was because of Ambedkar that people like him come up in the society. It is true that Modi, despite belonging to RSS-BJP combine, which speaks of uplifting the Dalits while skirting the bigger question of casteism, is projecting his caste prominently in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In fact, the RSS is opposed to disturbing the status quo of caste hierarchy.
Modi’s postures show the impact of caste politics and its recognition by ideologies that generally condemn caste-based politics. Many of Ambedkar’s supporters were from the upper castes. Modi, flaunting his caste in UP and Bihar, is under the pressure of electoral compulsions, while his politics as exhibited in Gujarat and the ideology of the RSS, his parent organisation, has nothing whatsoever aimed at achieving social justice in any sense of the word.
While he is tom-toming about his caste, what has been the condition of Dalits and Adivasis in Gujarat under him? Most policies implemented by Modi are committed to the interest of the corporates. The schemes initiated by the Central government, which aim at the benefit the underprivileged,have been put on the backburner in Gujarat. In violation of the Planning Commission’s directives, Modi has not held a single meeting for the sub-plans for SCs and STs that seek proportionate spending for the welfare of the two communities.
In Gujarat, 27,900 posts for SCs/ STs have been vacant because the state makes it obligatory that vacancies be filled only locally. For example, in the district of Ahmedabad, Modi’s MLA constituency, as many as 3,125 SC students have not been given their SC scholarships till date. Independent surveys show that untouchability and denial of entry to Dalits in temples are rampant in 1,600 villages of Gujarat.
Dalits from different parts of Ahmedabad came together on 13 April and spoke out against the Gujarat government’s development model. They claimed it had failed to provide a means to transform the lives of Dalits.
It is interesting to note that in his book Karmayoga, Modi claims that manual scavenging work is a spiritual experience for the Valmikis. One also notes that in Gujarat the conviction rate in atrocity cases is just 4 percent. Though there is a provision for special courts in every district, the government has not set up such courts that would help reduce pendency of cases.
History stands in contrast to Modi’s recent proclamation that it was the BJP that awarded Ambedkar the Bharat Ratna. It is unfortunate that the media missed his lie. The first BJP government at the Centre lasted for 13 days in 1996. Ambedkar was conferred posthumous Bharat Ratna in 1990 by the VP Singh government, the same government that implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. The BJP has never been comfortable with Ambedkar’s values or even reservations for SCs/STs.
While Dalit activists have been critical of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress, the politics of Hindu nationalism, the real opponent of social justice, has been totally ignored. The very measures for affirmative action, the implementation of Mandal Commission, were opposed by this politics. Electoral politics makes strange demands; one starts making public postures and statements contrary to one’s core ideology and manifest actions. That’s Modi for you!