March 13, 2016

Modiji ki Dalit Prem Katha Full of Symbolism – Zero in Substance

G Mamatha

THE BJP government is these days on an overdrive. Acting, it appears is rubbing on the entire party leaders. The difference between professional actors and professional politicians is more or less non-existent in the Party, with all of them showcasing their acting skills on the 'big stage'. Of course, for the prime minister, the world is a stage. He can perform anywhere. Remember, the dramatic entrance to the parliament? And the occasional choking of the voice and wiping of tears, particularly when he talks about the children of 'Bharat mata'. No wonder the followers are trying their best to imitate their leader. Unfortunately, it is upon us to bear their dreary show!

To dissect and critique their broad span of acting skills will take reams of paper and hours of time. So here we will confine ourselves to review only their 'dalit prem katha' (dalit love story). Though this is a long story sizing an epic, we will once again confine ourselves to the past one year, starting from the 125 birth anniversary celebrations of Dr BR Ambedkar. Bowing to him, the prime minister pledged to dedicate himself and others to create an “India that Dr Ambedkar dreamt India that will make him proud”. Coins were released, food distributed, their mother organisation had brought out special issues and even a special sitting of the parliament was held. Act I concluded. Rohith Vemula committed suicide.

Then started Act II, with tears taking up many days to travel from heart, to come out of the eyes. But as easily as they were wiped away, the entire issue of Rohith was sought to be brushed aside. But to the displeasure of the troupe of artists led by the 'great leader', Rohith is not a tear drop to be wiped away, he is a star, refusing to stop illuminating. The path, when it was found difficult to traverse, diversions were tried. Of course, JNU happened.

Just as they tried to project nationalism as a set of symbols, like hoisting, carrying and saluting the tri-colour or placing an army tank or cheering for the right cricket team, they thought that their 'love' towards dalits can be 'elevated' to the next higher level, by choosing some more symbols. Enter Ravidas jayanti. The prime minister once again bowed to Guru Ravidas and eulogised: “His thoughts and emphasis on social reform and equality transformed our society and enriched it greatly”. Period.

Not to be left behind, the party president chose another icon Raja Suheldev and unveiled his statute. Bowing to him, his 'thoughts and deeds' were saluted here too. End of Act II. Now with elections to five states and soon with elections to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh scheduled, we easily get an idea of what Act III will be. So let us now do a reality check.

Rohith Vemula, in his suicide note, mentioned that his scholarship was stopped for the last seven months and requested the authorities to release it to his family. There is the natural denial from the administration that the scholarship was never indeed stopped. This was proved to be a blatant lie. The reasons for the failure of timely disbursal of scholarships are indeed many. One, lack of budgetary allocations, two, lethargy in timely disbursal of even the meagre allotment and three using it as a tool to control and harass dalit students. Did the BJP government talk anything about changing this reality? Nope.

In fact a study of the recent data on how monies allotted to the dalit and other backward students are spent and reservations implemented show the real face of the actors. Recent media reports point out that a parliamentary committee – headed by a BJP MP – in its fourth report on 'measures undertaken to secure representation of OBCs and for their welfare in universities and other higher educational/technical institutions' has “expressed anguish at the Ministry of Human Resource Development not being able to implement the 27 percent reservation in central educational institutions (CEIs) despite guidelines being issued by the government”.

It seems the committee even stated that “while Article 46 of the Constitution expressly provides that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, it was revealed that even the additional grant given by the HRD ministry to the CEIs to upgrade the infrastructure for facilitating the implementation of OBC reservation had not been fully utilised. It also observed that there is no effective mechanism in the ministry and the University Grants Commission to monitor the utilisation of the funds allocated to facilitate reservation of OBCs”.

Countering the general perception that reservations had reduced the number of seats available to the upper-castes, the panel observed that “the representation of OBC students in the CEIs, including central universities and technical institutions such as the IITs and NITs, remained far from satisfactory”. It provided data to substantiate its claims and concluded that “the approach of the Universities and other technical institutions has been rather lax in providing due representation to OBC students”.

The committee found similar violations or negligence to implement reservation policy even in the appointment to various faculty level positions. It expressed deep concern at the “gross violation of the Government of India orders’’, giving details of the vacancies: “as on March 31, 2015, there were 50 backlog OBC vacancies at Vishwa Bharti, 45 at the Harisingh Gaur University, 44 at Guru Ghasidas University, 34 at Pondicherry University, 33 at Tezpur University, and 32 each at Assam University, the University of Delhi and the University of Allahabad. The situation is disturbing in other Universities also and still worse in a number of technical institutions”.

Is it not because of this reason – lack of faculty, more so sensitive to the concerns and conditions of the dalit and backward sections that is leading to suicides of these students? An analysis of this year's budget shows that only 8 percent of the budget allocated to the UGC is spent on scholarships, post-doctoral fellowships and providing hostel facilities. Is it not the lackadaisical approach towards allocating resources, severely constraining these students from pursuing their dreams – one of which is expressed clearly - to be a writer on science like Carl Sagan?

Coming to this year’s budget, the finance minister tried to enact his part in the drama stating: “We are celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of Shri B Ambedkar. This must become the year of the economic empowerment for SC/ST entrepreneurs… It is proposed to constitute a national SC/ST hub in the MSME Ministry in partnership with industry associations”. He must be pleased at his performance as the ruling party benches were energetically thumping.

The budget once again is a betrayal. According to the guidelines for budgetary allocations, 16.6 percent for SCP and 8.6 percent for TSP from the plan outlay should have been allotted. However, this year, the total plan outlay was Rs 5.5 lakh crore, of which Rs 38,833 crore have been allocated to SCP (7.6 percent) while Rs 24,005 crore was allocated to TSP (4.36 percent). As per the guidelines, the numbers should have been Rs 91,301 crore for SCP and Rs 47,300 crore for TSP. Thus, it is clear that the two sections have been denied a total of Rs 75,764 crore. And of course, this is not something that had happened for the first time. It was more or less similar in the previous year’s budget too. An analysis of budget of the last five years from 2012-13 to the current budget shows that fund allocation to SC/ST sub-plans were on average over 50 percent less than what was due.

But what is frightening is brought out by the 'National Coalition on SCP and TSP Legislation' in its pre-budget memorandum submitted to the finance ministry. It shows that “during the last budget (2015-16), Rs 77,236 crore was allocated to Scheduled Castes and Rs 40,014 crore to Tribals. However, out of this as per revised estimates only Rs 30,851 crore was allocated to SCP and Rs 20,000 crore to TSP”. This shows that after the limelight or stage lights are off, the budgetary allocations that are intended for the dalits and other disprivileged sections are slyly cut. This is what also needs to be carefully watched and resisted, together with demanding an increase in budgetary allocations. Here both the BJP and the Congress (which cannot escape blame just because it is now in the opposition) stand guilty.

The real intention and 'love' of the successive governments can be learned from how they allocate resources and how they display the resolve to ensure that all the monies allotted are judiciously spent. It is here that their acting gives away and reality is exposed, make-ups are washed out exposing their true faces.

Just as true patriotism lies in loving the people and working towards their empowerment and not through ostentatious display of symbols, true love towards dalits and other disprivileged sections lies in identifying and addressing their concerns, not just by 'garlanding' and 'bowing one's heads'. And more importantly there can be no patriotism unless the problems of dalits and other disprivileged sections are addressed. Simply put, fighting for the rights of dalits is the duty of a true patriot. A true patriot is one who works for a society where everyone can live a life with their head held high.