'Dalits feel Hindu Rashtra means caste system again'

Food and Civil Supplies Minister Ram Vilas Paswan at a press conference about the achievements of his ministry in the last 4 years of the NDA government, in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI

Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, the Scheduled Caste face of NDA government, feels that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is committed to the upliftment of the Scheduled castes but “perception in the mind of Dalits about RSS needs to be corrected.”

Born to a Scheduled Caste family from Bihar Paswan, who completed 50 years of electoral politics this year after becoming an MLA in 1969 and who has been Union Minister in all governments for last 30 years since 1989,  lauds NDA governments particularly of the current dispensation for Scheduled Caste welfare but also flags the discomfiture of the community with “Hindu Rashtra” pitch of BJP.

In an exclusive interview to Deccan Herald, Paswan also makes a strong case for everyone to wait for the Supreme Court decision on Ram Temple and does not approve of the VHP-BJP pitch to bring an ordinance on it.

“It is written in our party manifesto that everybody in the country should accept whatever is the decision of the Supreme Court on the issue. We stick to it. Different parties may have different views. VHP-BJP may have other views. But the government has never said that an ordinance should be brought to construct Ram Temple. Nobody from the government has said that it will bring an ordinance,” says Paswan, who had resigned from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2002 citing Godhra communal riots.

He also felt that Ram temple issue “will not be that big an issue” in 2019 Lok Sabha polls in which says electoral outcome will be decided “on the basis of our work in five years, development and employment.”

Paswan also reminded that soon after the demolition of Babri mosque in December 1992,  the SP-BSP combine had formed a government in UP in 1993 and then again after last BJP government in UP in 2002, BJP could form a government in Uttar Pradesh only in 2017 after a gap of 15 years.

There is a strong buzz that Paswan, who has turned somewhat reclusive recently,  will not contest 2019 Lok Sabha polls, take a Rajya Sabha route to enter Parliament and may refrain from joining the next ministry as he prepares the pass the baton to his son Chirag Paswan.  When asked, the Union Minister, however, merely say he now wants to focus more on party work and expressing his views more freely.

Replying to questions as to why Modi government often finds itself at the receiving end of Scheduled Caste anger if this government has done so much for the Scheduled Castes, Paswan says “As long as the perception of Dalits about RSS does not change, it will keep impacting even the BJP. There is a need to change the perception among Dalits about RSS.”

He cites how a remark by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat regarding the need for a review of reservation, which was even though clarified by him later, damaged BJP’s poll prospects in Bihar assembly elections 2015 even as all BJP leaders including PM Modi asserted that no body can do away with quota for SCs and OBCs.

“Modi ji went to the extent of saying that quota can be done away only after his death. But the damage that was done could not be rectified. The reason is that there is a perception that it is the RSS, which is the central organisation and all others including BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal are ancillaries.” 

Paswan, who started his political life from Samyukta Socialist Party in 1969 and spent most of his time in the company of socialist leaders, also feels that despite the efforts to Hinduise the identity of Scheduled Caste “the concept of Hindu Rashtra revives the fear of old caste system (Varn Vyavastha) among Dalits.”

Paswan said that Scheduled Caste feel that there had been two orders in India---one prescribed by Manu and the other as per the Constitution drafted by Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. 

“See when all BJP leaders support the concept of Hindu Rashtra, they may have something else in mind but it raises concerns in the mind of Scheduled Caste. They find it difficult to accept this concept as feel Hindu Rashtra will revive the same Brahmanvaad, the Varn Vyastha and under that arrangement, they will be at the bottom of the pyramid. 

“Despite all the “Sahbhojs (eating together ) with Scheduled Caste, this feeling is deep-seated. There is a need to somehow reconcile this divergence of approach,” Paswan said while acknowledging that RSS taken initiatives like Sahbhoj to mainstream the Dalit with the upper echelons of Hindu society.

Paswan also says that if Scheduled Caste are angry somewhere with the BJP, it does not mean they are gaga over voting for other parties. “Other parties merely do the lip service,” he says. 

The Union Minister says the emergence of young Scheduled Caste leaders like Jignesh Mevani in Gujarat or Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan in UP is part of the process of the evolution and assertion of Scheduled Caste identity and aspirations. 

He says after B R Ambedkar, no pan India Scheduled Caste leader who can match his appeal could emerge barring late Jagjeevan Ram to some extent. He says while he tried to create pan Scheduled Caste identity for himself not confined to only his caste Paswans, late Kanshiram and now his disciple Mayawati are fanned the Jatav or Ravidas identity, which is dominant but just a fraction of Scheduled Caste.

“Now you saw when Dalit violence in Una happened, a Scheduled Caste leader emerged. In UP also, Ravan came up. The younger generation of Dalits are assertive and impatient for their due. Earlier when Dalit atrocities happened in Mirchpur or Jhajhar in Haryana, no local Dalit leadership emerged. Like Upper castes and OBCs like Yadavs, no one can now claim to be sole representatives of all Dalit countrywide. This is a natural evolution of leadership in all communities,” he says.

Paswan also takes into account BSP not winning any Lok Sabha seat in UP in 2014, despite having got 20 percent votes. “Dalit vote can be key vote but cannot decide electoral outcome on its own. Before the Mandal Commission, Scheduled Caste, OBCs and liberal sections of upper castes were together in the fight for social justice. Even in future, Dalits will have to align with others. Even Mayawati could come to power only she got the backing of Brahmins and some other castes.

He says it’s time both Scheduled Caste and Muslims should break from the stereotypes and set their agenda before political parties before casting vote for them. 

“Modi government is working so much for Dalits but if they do not vote for it, future governments will argue that there is no point in working for them. Similarly, Muslims keep considering the BJP enemy, Congress and other parties challenging the BJP will feel that they are the sole claimants of Muslims votes even if they do nothing for the community. Both Scheduled Caste stand to lose out in this scenario,” Paswan says whose party’s politics has revolved around Scheduled Caste Muslims and a mix of upper castes in his home state.

On the alliance in Bihar from where he has been Lok Sabha eight times, Paswan says that NDA is comfortably placed with BJP, JDU and LJP staying together.

He acknowledges that the outcome in assembly elections in five states will definitely have a bearing on next Lok Sabha polls. At the same time he says when people will choose the Prime Minister they will vote for strong leadership. Paswan reminds that even Indira Gandhi, who had clamped Emergency in 1975 and lost to a united Opposition in 1977, stormed back to power in 1980 as people do not want a weak and unstable leadership at Centre.

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