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Will Smriti Irani's masterstroke be a self-goal by BJP over Dalit issue?

At the outset, the BJP wanted to steer clear of the Dalit controversy and focus on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the anti-national slogans allegedly raised at JNU. But as the debate progressed, Dalits became the central point of the discussion.

Afsar Ahmad | IBNLive.com

Updated:February 27, 2016, 5:21 PM IST
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Will Smriti Irani's masterstroke be a self-goal by BJP over Dalit issue?
At the outset, the BJP wanted to steer clear of the Dalit controversy and focus on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the anti-national slogans allegedly raised at JNU. But as the debate progressed, Dalits became the central point of the discussion.

Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani's emotional speech in Parliament may have stepped the Opposition's charge in the JNU sedition and Rohith Vemula issues. But in the long run it is likely to harm the Bharatiya Janata Party more with the narrative now drifting towards Dalit issues.

At the outset, the BJP wanted to steer clear of the Dalit controversy and focus on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the anti-national slogans allegedly raised at JNU. But as the debate progressed, Dalits became the central point of the discussion.

Even though Smriti's fiery speech instilled confidence in the BJP, analysts feel it may have to pay a price in terms of loss of Dalit votes in the future.

The debate on Rohith Vemula suicide in Hyderabad Central University began in Rajya Sabha with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati telling Smriti that a Dalit should be a part of the panel investigating the suicide. But even after three days the government is yet to reply on this.

Smriti's reply in Rajya Sabha targeting Mayawati is also seen as an attack on Dalits as the latter is the community's most visible face. So, even though social media had high praise for Smriti after her speech, analysts felt that the message going out to Dalits was that they were being targeted by the BJP.

In the end, Mayawati matched Smriti's aggression even asking the HRD minister to fulfil her vow (off chopping of her head) if she did not come out with a satisfactory explanation.

Mayawati said, "Mein 1% bhi unke jawaab se sehmat nhi hun. Ab unko apna sar kalam karke mere kadmon mein daal dena chahiye," (I am not even 1 per cent satisfied with her answer. Now, she should chop off her head and lay it at my feet)."

The discussion would have ended there, but Smriti committed one more mistake by reading out a pamphlet on the 'Mahishasur martyrdom' celebrations at the JNU in 2013. The idea behind it was to break the united opposition, but it backfired. What began as an attempt to "expose" the Opposition over "anti-national activities" at JNU ended up mobilising the Opposition over the Dalit issue.

The debate on Mahishasura continued in the media even the next day with many leaders pointing out that the Hindu community is not a monolithic entity but one tolerant of various religious practices. And that there were communities like Santhals which worshipped Mahishasura who was called a demon by others.

The BJP was in the dock when pictures of party MP Udit Raj taking part in Mahishasur martyrdom function in 2013 surfaced. Raj clarified that political obligations and societal obligations were two different things. Clearly, BJP leaders from Dalit community were not satisfied with the party's move.

It is not true that BJP does not know the importance of the Dalit vote, especially with the Uttar Pradesh elections coming up next year. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Ravidas temple in on the Jayanthi of the poet saint who was originally from that community. As for the minority community, they already feel alienated, and Smriti's speech has only worsened the situation.

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