The ‘RSS Factor’ in Dalit Politics
AFTER the massive win in Uttar Pradesh, the prime minister has announced that the stage is set for a ‘New India’ which is based on development and not on the politics of caste or religion. This claim is based on the understanding that the people of UP defied the caste and religious equations this time to defeat the forces of ‘castiest’ and ‘communal politics of BSP and SP-INC combine’ in order to support social harmony and development in the state. This formulation is supported by the success of the RSS and its affiliates in initiating a process of social engineering that has begun to now show some electoral results. To this end, the RSS is following the practice that it had earlier adopted with the adivasis: the incorporation of their icons and the reinterpretation of their ideas: in order to build the vision of a “unified harmonious” ‘Hindu society’. The success of this strategy can be judged by the indications of polarisation in the UP assembly elections.
GHAR WAPSI: THE BASIS FOR SOCIAL ENGINEERING
The RSS and its multiple affiliate organisations have been targeting the dalits in Uttar Pradesh since the victory of the BJP in the 2014. Just after the elections, the work of several affiliate organisations like the Dharm Jagran Samiti and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti came to light now, even though these organisations have been in existence since the turn of the 21st century. In 2015, right after the court ruled that ‘reconverted dalits’ would get the benefit of reservations, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad saw the judgement as a tacit approval of their operations and expanded their operations for Ghar Wapsi. The most prominent example of this was the controversial programme of Agra in 2015. But the wave of reconversions has been on since much before this period and is being done by a proliferation of lesser known VHP and Sangh affiliates in districts like Agra, Etah, Unnao, Varanasi and other such districts. The Sangh claims that the ‘converts’ to Christianity and Islam have reconverted because they face an oppressive religious hierarchy in the religion to which they converted. But reports from the field show that such reconversions have a distinct element of coercion and targeting. For example, several churches were attacked in Hathras, Meerut, and Greater Noida where the Sangh activists lodged a complaint against the pastors and brought a priest and a deity to reconvert the dalits at the same time. In this process a false complaint of conversion was lodged against the ‘Christian pastors’ and the church got converted into a temple through ‘purification’ by Hindutva activists. Several similar incidents are also noticed amongst dalit Muslims in the state. Reconversions from Islam have taken place in Agra, Gorakhpur and Varanasi, all led by the forceful intervention of the Dharm Jagran Samiti and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. In fact, the head of the Dharm Jagran Samiti has been quoted as saying that he aims to “free India from Islam and Christianity by 2021”. In another admission the VHP leader Togadia has admitted that 7.5 lakh reconversions have taken place in the last ten years. This admission itself shows that the ‘ghar wapsi’ programme is an important part of projecting the Hindu religion as a unifying religion. It is therefore not surprising that many Sangh leaders have demonstrated their new found love for the dalits by appealing to the ‘Hindus’ that they should ‘show respect’ and ‘protect the dalits’.
MECHANISMS FOR INTEGRATING DALITS INTO ‘HINDU FOLD’
This reconversion is the first step into re-integrating dalits within the mainstream of the village. But in recent years the RSS has gone one step ahead and decided to form local level committees to end caste discrimination in 2015. For the first time the RSS held district level meetings of volunteers in about 75,000 villages of India, and much of this was concentrated in the states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where elections have been held. Reports from the organisation suggests that the committees started holding dialogues in order to persuade higher castes to take up their programme of “one village, one well, one crematorium” and in doing so projected themselves as an anti-caste force. In order to justify this programme the Sangh ideologues reinterpreted Ambedkar and projected him as both anti-Communist and anti-Muslim. In its 125th year commemoration of Ambedkar, the Organiser effectively proclaimed reinterpreted Ambedkar as icon of social harmony and unified Hindu society in order to counter the dalit movement which has always held that social structures under Hinduism are the root cause of untouchability. But instead of targeting these structures, which in fact form the core social support of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, the RSS impressed upon its volunteers the need to explain the political necessity of the social harmony project. Thereby it emphasised both voluntarism and adjustment with its upper caste base and propelled them into taking up programmes of health, education and the implementation of schemes by pressurising the local administration. It assured its upper caste base that the dalits would be integrated into the mainstream Hindu society on the terms set by the upper caste; ie, they would have to follow the practices and morality which the Hindutva cadres prescribed. To this end the RSS called a high level meeting of 40 affiliates (including the Dharm Jagran Sangh and VHP) in 2016 in order to coordinate a well thought out political and social campaign that targeted the non-jatav base of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the results of which are being seen in the UP elections.
BJP SUCCESS ON DALIT SEATS
The preceding discussion has attempted to provide a brief outline of the process that seems to have preceded Modi’s aggressive 2017 UP campaign. The results are there to see in the 85 ‘Scheduled Caste’ reserved seats:
Party Positions in SC Reserved Constituencies, 2017
Source: Compiled from Election Commission constituency wise data
The impact of the social engineering process where Hindus were projected as one unified harmonious society vis-a-vis the divisive political opponents seems to have helped the BJP to win 75 of the 85 reserved seats. The BSP was relegated to the third position in almost two thirds of the seats. In many seats the BJP won with margins between 20,000-60,000 votes. Of course this connection will have to be confirmed through a rigorous analysis of the developments at the ground level. Some may argue that many of the reserved seats may not have a significant SC population because of the policy of rotation of constituencies. But the election data also shows that the BSP lost almost all its seats in the traditional strongholds like Agra. Further in many reserved constituencies where there is a significant minority presence, the votes seem to have also got split between the BSP and the SP led alliance. In fact the table also shows that the SP-INC alliance did somewhat better than the BSP in the reserved seats.
While a full and rigorous analysis of this phenomenon is yet to be undertaken, the trends indicate that the RSS played a crucial role in creating a religious polarisation through its campaign of a unified Hinduism. This dangerous trend and locally managed intervention conveniently isolated dalits from all the anti-dalit activities that the Sangh outfits were indulging in, prior to the elections in UP and elsewhere. In doing so, the RSS created a situation where its conventional anti-dalit perspective was couched behind the slogan of social harmony – a harmony that forces the dalits to accept the hegemony of their own oppressors.