As Centre gears up to restore the SC/ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, overturning the March 20 order of the Supreme Court, Dalit BJP MP Udit raj tells Outlook's Pragya Singh how the April 2 protests by the community had a huge bearing on Dalit politics, and why it is imperative for Dalits to show their strengths to be heard.
How is the April 2 Bharat Bandh affecting Dalit politics till today?
That protest has had a huge bearing that must be addressed. Since April 2, things have deteriorated. Important functionaries of the community should communicate with people. That’s why after April 2 Dalit’s leaders are speaking out. The anger has turned against BJP though this is not unusual. Invariably protests are direct against governments. If it was Samajwadi Party or Congress party (government), protests would have been against them.
Instead of bringing an ordinance the judge who delivered the SC ruling has been promoted. It is almost like a deliberate thing…
That is why there is a huge difficulty and we are appealing to the government to bring an ordinance or legislation in this session to restore the Atrocities Act. We have been appealing for this in Parliament and 15-20 of us met the Prime Minister on 29 May.
Do you think other parties will benefit from this situation?
They will try to. Whether I am part of government or not, the fact is that the Dalits have to show their strength in order to be heard. That is why they have social movements. Hence there is talk about protests on August 9, because people feel the need to articulate very pointed issues.
You have called some of the Dalit leaders “parasites”. Why?
Of course they are parasites for the party. They are made leaders by their party, not by the community to which they belong. Once a party picks someone up and makes him a leader, his recognition makes him a leader. Only someone from the cause—whether social movement or political party—can successfully represent the community he belongs to. Otherwise he represents the feelings of his party. That’s why I called them parasites. The party has not said they should not engage with the people. Every party wants that their (Dalit) leaders to deliver. As an MP, a party leader, they should deliver for their party but that what are they doing? They should go to the grassroots, talk to people, educate them and struggle with them if there are problems. This is round the year work not one week’s work. The party should have told them (to do this) and what else have they been made MP for? Either the party should remove them or they should introspect.
Do you support the removal of the NGT’s new chairman?
Yes, he should be removed.
If the government replaces the NGT chairperson, would BJP’s core voters feel alienated?
That is the signal that has gone out. I would also like to speak my mind about the judiciary. I trust the judiciary but it is exercising extra-Constitutional powers in different areas. What were Dalit leaders doing when the collegium system came into being? It should have been opposed. It was neither a Constitutional provision nor law made by Parliament. On their own they (judiciary) have done it. That is illegal and unconstitutional. The Constitution doesn’t mention that judges will be appointed by judges still it is happening.
What is the correct system in your view?
I find that America (and in some other countries) has a Republican versus Democratic political system but judges are more fair there. Each American state has a Supreme Court and in some states the Chief Justice is directly elected by the people, like in Indianapolis. In some states Republican and Democratic candidates try for nomination as district, appellate or Supreme Court judges. So they have a three-layer judicial system whose nominees are sent from the parties and that’s how judges come into office there. Tell me, their judges are chosen in line with the politicians and yet they are very fair. What happens here is that a (politician is) always doubted.
Dalit youth don’t seem to be in a mood to compromise with politics right now. How can this change?
They too need to change. Ask them whom they are supporting and you will find there is only negativity. They don’t support anyone. They are also selfish. They would support a party because they think it can give (benefits) but not their own leaders. That’s why hardly anything is left in the hand of leaders.
Is this because Dalit leaders are elected only from reserved seats?
And mostly even those candidates are privileged people.
So looking back, would separate electorates have been a better idea?
That would have been a better idea.
Why is that?
Under the existing system Dalit MPs are not elected by Dalit voters. They are elected by non-Dalits. And whose population is the largest in the country—the non-Dalits, 80-85 per cent of the population.
But if Dalits, some sections of OBCs and Muslims come together then would this scenario change?
It is a fact that Dalits and Muslims have come closer.
But this is not showing up in mainstream politics.
You are right: leaders are a lot less united than the masses. In UP we saw that immediately after the alliance for bypolls in Gorakhpur etc were announced, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party workers came very close to each other.
Many had expected old caste rivalries to come in the way of this alliance, which didn’t happen…
It wasn’t only Dalit groups that came together. That is why they could defeat the BJP. On their own the BSP workers campaigned—and very happily.
Is that because BSP has very good workers?
Not because of the BSP. It is the mindset. Mindset of the BSP worker is basically against BJP. This does not reflect the strength of the party but the strength of thought: Their ideology is strong, not the party alone.
So BJP’s goal would be to try limiting Mayawati’s voters and not let her share expand?
They could have used me to do this right from the beginning.
In what way?
To connect with voters on the ground since 2014—this is what I had expected. Of course it is their choice. Sooner or later I will get the opportunity. Experiences teach a party...
What do you say to people opposed to reservations?
The government works towards economic empowerment all year, with 200-plus schemes directly targeting poverty. If those schemes are not useful or they have not yielded results then how come reservation can remove poverty?
Within SCs there is an argument that some groups have taken a lion’s share of reservation. What do you think?
That is true but this is a cultural issue. Soon after Independence, castes which were really very poor benefited more because of awareness and because of lack of opportunities. Castes that were just a little more well-to-do did not get as many benefits either because they were complacent or did not pay much attention to education.
Would it be okay to have a creamy layer in the SC reservations?
No, because reservation is not an economic empowerment tool. It is a tool for raising representation.
What do you think of arguments for reservations on economic criteria?
Over time reservation has been diluted a lot. There are not as many jobs either but even one government job makes a big difference to whole generations of a family. If in a village someone becomes a police inspector, lecturer or clerk the mindset of the entire village changes. Even if that individual lives in a city, if something goes wrong in his village, he gives assistance and knowledge. That’s why reservation is a political and social tool for empowerment.
It’s also said that the Atrocities Act is being misused?
Even upper castes misuse this law against each other, by using Dalits as a tool. What about laws against dowry? There have been cases where relatives (of the bride) were not even in India but they were implicated for dowry. Why should that not be evaluated—why only reservation is debated?