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Bharat Bandh & Implications For Politics & Democracy

The new Dalit assertion is a reflection of a wider canvas.

Different experts found different meanings in the Bharat Bandh of April 2. The bandh was organized by Dalit groups to protest against a Supreme Court order that barred the arrest of public servants under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, before a preliminary inquiry is conducted. The apex court arrived at the judgment apparently to curb the alleged misuse of the law. For me, the bandh came as a clear vindication of the fact that the Dalit leadership of the 21st century is different from its past avatars.

The new generation of educated Dalit youth, perhaps influenced by Narendra Modi’s promise to build a new India, voted for him in the 2014 general elections. But it’s fairly apparent that they got disenchanted with Modi and his vision in a very short time. It did not take them long to realize that, in Modi’s New India, they continue to be assigned menial tasks and have a minimal stake in wealth creation. The new Dalit assertion is, therefore, a reflection of wider canvas that not only brings forth the issue of self-respect but also that of alienation.

The question of self-respect represents the Dalit youth’s desire to come out of the clutches of the caste-induced oppressive structures while the contempt towards alienation reflects their aspiration to thwart the repressive economic structures being built under the watchful eyes of globalization. These two structures have proved a major hindrance in the overall development of Dalits and other socially backward classes.

The 2015 congregation of rural youth in Gujarat—most of them belonged to the peasantry—under the leadership of Hardik Patel and the 2016 statewide yatra by Jignesh Mevani provided a powerful bulwark against the BJP’s hegemony in the state, which is supported by a conglomeration of organizations representing the backward classes.

This new assertion by these social classes is a product of the failure of the so-called Gujrat model of development, which forced them to voice their dissent against the repressive development model pursued by successive governments for nearly three decades.

Apart from these social identity-cum-economic alienation based new assertions, farmer movements across the cow belt, the core support base of BJP where the RSS and its affiliates run a deep organizational network, are proof that Modi’s slogan of Acche Din and Sab Ke Saath, Sab Ka Vikas have come a cropper.

These two slogans played a major role in 2014, helping the BJP solidify a social engineering that was structured around the RSS’s core agenda. If the farmer agitations in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and, to some extent, in Rajasthan caught the imagination of small and marginal farmers demanding remunerative prices, the Long March by Adivasi farmers in Maharashtra was aimed at restructuring property relations in the state’s tribal belt.

The movements, under making over the last two years, established that Modi’s chhappan inch ka chathee failed miserably in keeping the promise of growth and stability minus corruption.

In retrospect, UPA’s 10-year tenure was more socially harmonious than what it is now. Same is the case with economic growth. Corruption took a new direction and dimension under the Modi regime. Under UPA, corruption happened at the policy level. Under the BJP it has been blatant and shorn of any niceties. If corruption in the past benefitted entrepreneurs as a class, under the BJP it is only benefitting the cream, a handful of individuals.

Put together, all these trends provide the basis for a new social engineering to emerge ahead of the 2019 elections. The social engineering that brought Modi to power is repressive in nature. The one emerging now feel liberating in its content and intent. BJP’s was cooption-based which generally favors the status quo in social as well economic relations. The one emerging now feels that status-quoism in social and economic relations is an impediment in efforts to realize Dalit aspirations.

The current administrative edifice is so precarious that it can’t even attempt to identify a smart, young man who fired at an agitating mob in Gwalior and killed one person. This precariousness has not cropped up suddenly.

Prevarication has been turned into an art by the ruling establishment and the neo-fascistic structure that propped up this establishment.

Another important factor these movements have brought to focus is the role of social media platforms and their limitations. It is clear that Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani or, for that matter, even the farmers of north India were able to send their message beyond their immediate borders because of social media.

Another important aspect to this is virtual aggression. The social media has become a vehicle to bring legitimacy to violent acts, as observed by Harish Khare in his recent column in The Wire.in.

The so-called fringe elements, who have patrons at the highest levels of the state apparatus, have resorted to posting unlawful acts on social media seeking acceptance of their aggressive and abusive behavior. This has influenced the middle class into silently scorning the new assertion being made even by the marginalized sections, be it the Dalits, the backward classes, or farmers or Adivasis. This reveals the serious implications and even dangers facing our parliamentary democracy in days to come.

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