Hyderabad, August 7 (NIA): In a desperate attempt to placate the agitating Dalits, who are threatening to sabotage the Bharatiya Janata Party ‘s bid to come back to power in the 2017 Gujarat State Assembly elections, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made some dramatic statements against Hindu extremist groups which are persecuting the Dalits in his state.
Referring to the “cow protectors” (Gau Rakshaks) who have gone about beating up Dalits for skinning cows (though skinning carcasses is the Dalits’ traditional occupation), Modi told a public meeting in Telengana state on Sunday, that the Gau Rakshaks who had persecuted Dalits were fake cow protectors.
He then appealed to the fake Gau Rakshaks to shoot him if they wanted, and not to touch the Dalits.
“If you want to shoot me, shoot me. I am ready to face the first bullet,'” he said in Hyderabad, even as Dalits in his home state of Gujarat are marching from the state capital of Ahmedabad to Una in Gir Somanth district where recently Dalits were publicly flogged by cow vigilantes.
Speaking earlier in Gajwel of Medak district of Telengana state, Modi made a distinction between “Asli” (genuine) Gau Rakshaks and “nakli” (fake) Gau Rakshaks. The latter’s intention is to create divisions in society, he said.
Modi tried to erase the ‘anti-Dalit’ stamp on his government by saying that his is the only government that has given due place to the Late Dr B R Ambedkar, the renowned champion of the Dalits.
“We are keen on developing `panch teerthas’ (five holy places) related to Dr Ambedkar which were neglected by previous governments,” he said.
It is significant that Modi should come out strongly on the side of the Dalits in Hyderabad for it was in this city that the Dalit research scholar, Rohit Vemula, was driven to suicide by upper caste people in academia. His suicide in January this year, and the way Modi’s government handled it, trigged a nation- wide outrage. More recently, a BJP MLA from Goshamahal in the city, T.Raja Singh Lodh, supported the flogging of Dalits in Una by cow vigilantes in Gujarat and his video on it went viral.
Managing Castes in Gujarat
Meanwhile, in the Gujarat capital of Gandhi Nagar on Sunday, Vijay Rupani was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Gujarat following the resignation of Anandiben Patel on August 2.
The appointment of Rupani, a Jain-Bania, in place of Anandiben Patel, who is a Patidar, is seen by political observers as an attempt to defuse caste tensions in Gujarat, which was wracked by an agitation by the Patels or Patidars and is now being rocked by a Dalit agitation.
While the Patidars are 15 percent of the population, the Dalits are 7 percent. Together they can tilt an election result to the detriment of the BJP. Gujarat will be going in for State Assembly elections fourteen months later in 2017.
The Patidars and the Dalits have different demands but a common demand is greater reservation for themselves in government jobs and in educational institutions.
But satisfying them will be a Herculean task as the economy of Gujarat has suffered in recent years since Narendra Modi left the stewardship of the state to become Prime Minister of India in 2014.
“Gujarat is going through a very bad period. One the one hand, there is social unrest and on the other, the economy is in bad shape. Small and medium enterprises are shutting down,” The Hindu quoted a senior bureaucrat as saying.
The number of sick micro, small and medium units has increased from 20,615 in 2012-13 to 49,003 in 2014-15. The average farm wage is Gujarat is Rs 169, which is lower than that in most states. The government admitted in the State Assembly that “on account of capital-intensive investment, industrial employment in Gujarat has gone down”, The Wire reported.
A global recession in industries like diamond polishing, machine tools, casting, and ceramics has also affected some major communities who control these industries. Given the deteriorating conditions, the BJP lost the District and Block Panchayat elections, presaging a rough ride during the coming State Assembly elections.