Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Dalits may spring surprise

Tired of promises, they are at crossroads, where BSP waits to receive them

MUMBAI, OCTOBER 12: Act II may prove even more fatal for a ruling combine, battered by the split in Dalit votes in the Lok Sabha polls. Across Maharashtra, the out-of-work Dalit youth, while still hostile to the saffron combine, has given up on the Congress and the RPI. From Mumbai’s Dharavi to Aurangabad’s Ambedkar Nagar and the ghetto of Indora in Nagpur, they feel let-down by a leadership that swore by quotas and welfare schemes; that the Chief Minister himself is a Dalit is ironical.

Having seen his leadership implode in a power struggle, the Scheduled Caste voter may be at a crossroads — where the BSP waits to receive him.

‘‘Promises made during elections are never kept,’’ say Bapu Ustad (65), a retired millworker, and Utkarsh Kate (28), an unemployed youth. Both are killing time in a dingy alley of Valmiki Nagar, in Asia’s biggest slum Dharavi. Bapu, a former grappler from Maharashtra’s wrestling centre Satara, is happy to have friends calling for a round of rummy. Utkarsh, an undergraduate with vocational training, is jobless, so are his seven friends.

‘‘It’s the same old story. They come for votes now and vanish once elected,’’ Bapu smiles. ‘‘I’ve seen every election since independence. All parties have been using us to their benefit.’’

Aba Hoval (68), concentrating till then on his rummy hand, says: ‘‘Even Baba’s (Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s) Republican Party of India has failed us.’’

Employment tops the agenda for a class struggling to make ends meet. That the neo-rich among them have exploited reservations, without a thought for those still toiling in poverty, makes the economic disparity even more stark. But talk about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s rhetoric about a ‘‘voluntary’’ job quota in the private sector and the youth in Dharavi shoots back. ‘‘We don’t trust the Congress. BJP-Shiv Sena are Manuwadi and RPI doesn’t matter at there’s no harm in trying out BSP this time.’’

In Aurangabad, some 500 km from Mumbai, Rama Kamble (24), an arts graduate, who earns a mere Rs 2,000 per month working as a driver with a private tour operator, personifies his community’s response. ‘‘I would give these leaders a bad time if they came to me for votes. Thackeray asks railways to scrap job interviews for north Indians, but has he ever asked them to restart the recruitment process?’’

Dalit scholar Dilip Arjune links this shift in political loyalties to the first line of Dalit leaders who have split the RPI into a dozen factions. ‘‘Ambedkar wanted us to learn, organise and struggle. But what we do today is organise and then fight among ourselves.’’

Historian Y.D. Phadke says: ‘‘The neo-rich among Dalits, who thrived on quotas, haven’t helped the underprivileged. The affidavits of some crorepati Dalit candidates speak a lot about this disparity.’’ Decisions such as the Maharashtra government’s move to impose reservations on promotions to class-I and super class-I jobs are seen to be merely skimming the surface of a working class comprising clerks, drivers and officeboys.

Sugalabai Dhandore (55), a domestic help, says, ‘‘Ours is a Hindu-Mahar family entitled to reservations. But my 28-year-old son Ravi is jobless.’’ She, alongwith elder son Pramod, a peon with a private firm, support the family of seven.

Given the heartburn, Mayawati’s brand of Dalit politics may just be the key to a votebank that comprises over 11 per cent of Maharashtra’s population.

Source: The Indian Express, October 13, 2004


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