Dalit community’s growing anger against the BJP and increasing cow vigilantism has rudely awakened the BJP to its adverse impact in the upcoming assembly elections, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The issue is making matters tough for the Prime Minister. He has been compelled to break his silence twice since Saturday last asking the bovine criminals in the name of cow protectors to target and kill him while sparing the Dalits. The critical question is whether the gau rakshaks can be taken off the streets and put in their place. Meanwhile, Nagpur where the RSS is headquartered, has cautioned that it will be wrong to paint all gau rakshaks with the same tainted brush of being anti-social elements.
The brazen incident in Una where the overzealous cow protectors and fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar took law into their hands by mercilessly beating four Dalits, and the video of the incident going viral, has laid BJP strategists low. What is significant is that Muslims are joining Dalits which portends a formidable combine against the saffron brigade in caste ridden UP.
These are the first danger signals compelling a change of tack in Modi’s home state of Gujarat with BJP president Amit Shah sidestepping a Patidar being appointed as chief minister in place of Anandiben Patel, who has been forced to step down after two years in office. The BJP leadership zeroed in on a Jain in Vijay Rupani, a protégé of Shah, as chief minister.
It is no secret that Dalits have remained subjugated in the State and the blame must be accepted equally by both the BJP and the Congress which have held the reins of power in Gandhinagar for long. Nitin Patel, who enjoyed the number two position under Anandiben, has been made the Deputy chief minister. He might have lost out on becoming the chief minister because of the premature celebrations by his supporters. The strategists could not have ignored Nitin because the Patels have backed the BJP for nearly two decades. The Patels appear to be drifting away from the BJP after starting their agitation demanding reservation last year. Shah has not only chosen one of his own loyalists but a person who is also close to the RSS, the BJP’s mentor.
The caste neutral leadership which has held sway in Gujarat so far appears to be coming apart. Anandiben, who was handpicked by Modi to be his successor in Gujarat, made no secret of her anger and annoyance for not elevating Nitin as chief minister. On the other hand, Rupani became an MLA for the first time in 2014. He lacks administrative experience which he makes up by being available to party workers and officials. He was against the hard line adopted by Anandiben against the Patidors. The Dalits are also unhappy with Rupani because he did not reach out to them after the Una incident.
The BJP, which is desperately trying to woo the Dalits, realises that if the Dalits and the Muslims steered clear of voting for the saffron brigade, particularly in UP, it might prove to be debilitating for them. At one point of time the Prime Minister preferred a stoic silence to incidents of intolerance but now he wants the authorities to act against gau rakshaks because they are essentially anti-social elements.
The job for the BJP in the run up to the assembly elections in UP is a challenging one. Time on hand is short and they have refused to name their chief ministerial nominee in the most crucial state in the country. Emboldened by the Una incident amid efforts to undermine the Dalits, Mayawati suddenly finds a spring in her feet and definitely values her chances. Even though she fared very badly in the 2012 assembly elections and the ruling SP and its youthful chief minister Akhilesh Yadav insist they have a fighting chance, having given a fillip to development in UP. The criticism against the father-son duo is that they have turned the country’s largest state in terms of Lok Sabha seats and population into a police Raj. The Congress is trying to make itself relevant in UP despite its organisation being in shambles. It has nominated three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, 78, as its chief ministerial nominee in making a bid for power after a gap of 27 years with strategist Prashant Kishore calculating that the party can aspire to win close to 120 seats.
The BJP has seemingly lost a lot of ground as it wants to replicate its sterling performance in the 2014 general elections. There is no doubt it desperately wants to win UP as that might pave the way for Modi in securing a second term at the Centre in 2019. For now that is like gazing into the crystal ball.