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The mere symbolism of a Dalit face in government

Shamsher Singh Dullo was the president of the Punjab Congress Committee from 2005 to 2008. He told Dwarka Bharti, ‘Dalits are put to tests much tougher than they can endure.’

The episode of Dinesh Khatik, a minister of state in the Yogi Adityanath Government of Uttar Pradesh, resigning and then withdrawing his resignation has made it clear to the nation what Ram Rajya means. Some may describe the Khatik episode as a political stunt. But at the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that no matter which political party or alliance is in power, for Dalits in the government, it is like living between the jaws of a crocodile. And if those in power happen to be Hindutvavadis, the situation is even worse. If even after 75 years of Independence, Dalits have to remain content with unimportant assignments, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s publicity blitzkrieg centred on Amrikaal cannot be considered anything other than a crude stunt.

What is a matter of even deeper concern is that the government is shouting from the rooftops that when a Dalit or an Adivasi is occupying the top office of the country, how can anyone say that the Dalits are not getting their legitimate rights? The Dinesh Khatik episode provides a comprehensive answer to this question. From what Khatik has written in his resignation letter, he leaves no doubts that he was a minister of state in the Jalshakti department of the Uttar Pradesh government only for namesake. He states unambiguously that he was being discriminated against for being a Dalit. Khatik is serving his second term as an MLA, having been elected from Hastinapur constituency in the elections held earlier this year. He was a minister of state in the first term of the Yogi government, too. He says that due to his caste, no one in the department pays heed to him. He is not kept in the loop on the developments in the department. His letters are ignored. His plight is obviously no different from that of Ramnath Kovind, when he was the President of India.

It is not that such situations were unheard of before the Amritkaal. Dalits have had a presence in almost all political parties for a long time. But everywhere they have been mere pawns. On top of that, they have had to face the sack for the slightest of mistakes. Numerous hurdles are put on their growth and progress. In this respect, the Congress fares the worst. It was always the favoured destination of Dalits and yet it exploited them to the hilt. All the leaders of the party forged a joint front and did everything they could to block Jagjivan Ram’s path to becoming prime minister. This was the darkest chapter in the history of the Congress. It is a blot the party hasn’t been able to wash off to date. 

As for the Communist parties, Dalits were no more than glorified gatekeepers. They never gave any importance to the Dalits. There is nothing to indicate that the Communist parties were interested in appointing Dalits to senior positions. They remained Untouchables, with their role limited to arranging chairs. 

The socialist parties had a substantial number of Dalit members but they were scrupulously kept away from key positions. No Dalit got the opportunity to become a top leader like Lalu Prasad did. Dr Ambedkar, well aware of the real attitude of these parties, had told the Constituent Assembly in a speech on 25 November 1949, “The condemnation of the Constitution largely comes from two quarters, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party.”

Well-known sociologist Prof Anand Kumar, writing on the website Samta Marg, says, “What was the attitude of the socialist parties towards giving representation to the Dalits in their parties? Why could no Dalit could ever enter their top echelons? These are questions that are still unanswered.”

Droupadi Murmu and Ramnath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, on 25 July 2022 after the former taking over the President of India (Photo courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhavan)

The BJP’s track record has been no better. Dalit leader Bangaru Laxman, who was party president for more than a year, was shown the door on the charge of accepting a small amount of money as bribe. But the party stubbornly refused to sack Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra despite the fact that his son is facing the serious charge of crushing innocent farmers under the wheels of his car. Would the party have behaved in a similar manner had a Dalit, and not an upper-caste leader, been embroiled in such a controversy? Obviously not.

Punjab is another case in point. Shamsher Singh Dullo served as the president of the Punjab Congress Committee from 2005 to 2008. When I talked with him in connection with this article, he could not stop himself from baring his pain. “Dalits are put to tests much tougher than they can endure.” Addressing a meeting of Dalits, he had said, “The tendency of all others ganging up against the Dalits is still very much extant in the Congress.” This is evident by the way the Jat Sikh leaders ganged up against Charanjit Singh Channi, when he was the chief minister of Punjab. Sunil Jakhar openly attacked him and every attempt was made to put the blame of Congress’s defeat in the recently held Punjab elections at his door. 

Be that as it may, Ramnath Kovind has departed and Droupadi Murmu has replaced him. Perhaps the exit and entry of these pawns is what Azadi Ka Amritkaal is all about. Will the future usher in better times for the Dalits? Will they grow and progress? Will they get Azadi? 

 (Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)

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Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

Forward Thinking: Editorials, Essays, Etc (2009-16)

About The Author

Dwarka Bharti

Dwarka Bharti was born into a Dalit family on 24 March 1949. He studied up to matriculation and worked for the government for a while before going to Iraq and Jordan as a labourer. On his return, he embraced the familial occupation of shoemaking. He has translated several works in Punjabi into Hindi and written on, among other topics, cultural issues and rights of Dalits. His writings have been published in various Punjabi and Hindi magazines. His autobiography ‘Mochi: Ek Mochi ka Adabi Zindaginama’ has been well received

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