The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is nervous about the fallout of the anti-Dalit violence in Gujarat and the derogatory comments on Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati by one of its leaders.
It fears that the outreach by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah towards the Dalit community over the last two years has been dented by recent events and could also impact BJP’s chances of making a comeback in Uttar Pradesh in the Assembly polls early next year. Its damage control efforts have been directly proportional to its heightened nervousness. Over the past two days, the party has fielded a string of its senior leaders, including its women and Dalit leaders, to defend the BJP’s Gujarat government as well as highlight the alacrity with which the party expelled its UP state vice-president Dayashankar Singh for his derogatory remarks on Mayawati.
On Thursday, there were protests in several parts of the country, including by thousands of BSP cadres in Lucknow. Congress workers held “silent” protests across UP. It also raised the issue in both the Houses of Parliament — indicating its keenness to be seen standing in solidarity with the BSP chief.
The protests in Gujarat, where a Dalit man was killed in Una town for skinning a cow, also continued. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited Una, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal landed in Ahmedabad and is slated to visit the town. In Parliament, the Rajya Sabha took up a discussion on atrocities on Dalits.
On Wednesday, the BJP was quick to expel its Uttar Pradesh vice-president Dayashankar Singh for his comments on Mayawati. It had also fielded Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawarchand Gehlot and Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal to talk about the steps taken by the Gujarat government in the aftermath of the killing of the Dalit youth and suicide of another. Gehlot and Meghwal are Dalit leaders from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively.
On Thursday, Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu held a press conference and later BJP’s Dalit leader Bijay Sonkar Shastri also addressed the media. Water Resources Minister and one of its foremost women leaders, Uma Bharati, also criticised Dayashankar Singh’s comments. In Rajya Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh gave a detailed answer on the steps taken in Gujarat to punish the culprits as well as police personnel.
In Lucknow, thousands of BSP workers staged a protest around the Ambedkar statue in the busy Hazratganz area. They demanded the arrest of Singh. The cadre had converged from across UP. The police continued its raids to nab Dayashankar Singh after BSP leaders lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against him on Wednesday. Madhya Pradesh Assembly witnessed protests by four BSP legislators and supported by Congress members.
Elsewhere, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and DMK chief M Karunanidhi called the BJP anti-Dalit. In Rajya Sabha, Mayawati said atrocities on Dalits were on the rise in BJP-ruled states in the name of cow protection and the Centre should call an all-party meeting to find a solution to this issue. She said the BJP should have not have just sacked Dayashankar Singh but also lodged an FIR against him.