Forces antagonistic to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP-led Government at the centre have been searching for an opportunity to destabilise the regime and puncture the India story for long. Two incidents in the last fortnight, one involving Dalit youth, and the other the BSP leader Ms Mayawati, have come as Godsend to these forces of destabilisation.
The savage beating of four Dalit youth in the Gujarat town of Una must be condemned in the strongest terms and the supporters of a so-called cow-protection society be given exemplary punishment; the vulgar attack on Ms Mayawati by a UP BJP leader is equally despicable.
Ironically, however, these two incidents have generated powerful tailwinds for Ms Mayawati, which could significantly propel upwards her political fortunes in UP. Therefore it stands to logic that her supporters would continue to stoke the embers of this controversy and milk her victimhood. For the BJP, the problem is that notwithstanding vocal denials, the general perception remains that the cow-protection brigade is inspired and protected by its ideological family. But the party's belief that every Indian should give the cow the same status as his mother in keeping with Vedic doctrines is not shared by many, particularly non-Hindu communities. And therein lay a critical hiatus.
The history of the "Pathway to Pakistan" (incidentally, this is the title of an authoritative account of the period by Muslim League leader of pre-Independence UP, Chaudhuri Khaliquzzaman) is littered with communal riots over the killing of cows, particularly during Muslim festivals. For most Hindus, the cow is a sentimental issue although the treatment of old and infirm animals leaves much to be desired.
However, there never was any dispute about the disposal of carcasses of dead cows, whose hide is the ingredient of leather used primarily to manufacture footwear. Dalits, particularly a sub-caste among them, have been traditionally involved in disposing of dead cows after skinning the hide. That some Dalit boys should be brutally flogged for that is unprecedented and bizarre. But the recent highlighting of the near-divine importance of "gau mata" has bred hysteria in different parts of the country. The formation of vigilante groups monitoring alleged cattle smuggling and secret cow slaughter has added to the atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust, so tragically evident in the lynching of Akhlaq in Bisada village of western UP some months ago.
The present scenario of conflict is indeed paradoxical as the BJP has recently made a valiant attempt to reach out to Dalits who have traditionally been Congress supporters. In the last few decades, the rise of the BSP has turned the usually docile and submissive Dalits of North India, especially UP, into a cohesive and aggressive community conscious of their rights and united in their determination to exercise them. Mayawati has emerged as their icon as she has demonstrated that the so-called Bahujan Samaj can actually wrest political power and make upper castes woo them for votes.
In the effort to gradually wean Dalits away from the Congress, BSP and other parties, the BJP mounted a strenuous campaign last year to integrate the community with the larger Hindu "parivar". Howsoever symbolic, the community bathing in the Kshipra River during the recent Kumbh and shared meals on that occasion sent out a powerful message to the Dalits about the Sangh Parivar's inclusive agenda. Having voted for the BJP in substantial numbers in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, inspired by the aspirational dream woven by Mr Modi, Dalits had indicated their willingness to be receptive to BJP's ideology. For parties which have traditionally lorded over the Dalit vote bank, this was an alarm signal. For them it was essential to abort the incipient movement of Dalits (or at least sections of them) towards the BJP. While it may be an exaggeration to suggest that anti-BJP forces wilfully instigated right-wing goons to beat up Dalits in Gujarat over skinning a dead cow or lured a UP BJP leader to utter unspeakable words against Ms Mayawati, the coincidence of these developments less than a year before the UP Assembly elections is curious to say the least. We don't know if there was a hidden hand behind the twin instigations, that too when parliament was in session, but there is no doubt that anti-BJP forces have achieved their objective even if temporarily.
BJP spokespersons have a point when they argue that similar instances of assault on Dalits in states like Karnataka and Kerala are never highlighted by the national media the same way as the Gujarat incident, for instance, has played on TV for days together. As for the despicable remark by Dayashankar Singh, the UP leader since expelled from the BJP, the uproar has subsided now that the BJP has been put on the back foot. After Mayawati and others managed to get BJP to act against Dayashankar Singh, the volume of protests has subsided. The anti-BJP parties have achieved their objective and BJP is on the defensive.
A powerful section of opinion makers in the country have a rabid anti-BJP mindset, a mindset that overlooks similar or worse transgressions by the Congress or Left parties. There has been a single-minded effort by Left-Liberal intellectuals and their patrons in the Congress to derail Narendra Modi's development agenda and push the BJP back into a corner where it can be routinely castigated for its allegedly divisive ideology. The more the BJP tries to come out of this corner, the more it is sought to be jostled back into that space. Without any evidence whatsoever and fervent denials notwithstanding, the BJP continues to be characterised by Stalinists masquerading as Liberals as being anti-Dalit, anti-women, and needless to add, anti-Muslim. For this section of propagandists, the outrage in Una and people like utterances of people like Dayashankar Singh come in most handy.
While the BJP government at the centre and in states ruled by it need to be more proactive in nipping the mischief in the bud, the party's local units also need to be especially mindful of what they say and do. In the age of the camera phone and 24/7 TV, it is impossible to put the cat back into the bag once it has leapt out of it.
All the good work being done by the Modi Government for uplifting the poor (most of whom are, in fact, Dalits and Muslims), could be undone by careless words and deeds of prejudice that have no place in a nationalist and socially progressive party like the BJP.
(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also BJP MP of the Rajya Sabha.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.