Assertion, Co-option and Marginalization of Dalits


The appointment of two Dalits, Mr. Ajit Jogi and Mr.Babu Lal Marandi as the chief ministers of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand respectively amply proves the point that self-assertion of the Dalits in Indian society is a socio-political reality. This Self- assertion has forced the general masses to accept them in the offices of power. And it is a fact that all this has occured at a faster speed within the last decade or so.

Never before in the history of independent and democratic India Dalits have occupied so many public offices as today. At the outset a Dalit, who was also a Vice-President a few years back, is the President of India. The speaker of the Lower House of Parliament of India is also a Dalit. Four Dalits occupy the office of Governer of various States in the country. Above all, two Dalits are Presidents of two national parties of the world’s largest democracy, i.e. Bhaujan Samaj Party and Bharatiya Janata Party respectively. Apart from these offices there are many Dalit Cabinet Ministers at the Centre and State levels, of which a list is not ready- made. Further, a few years back, for the first time in the nation's history, a Dalit woman was the Chief Minister of the most populous state of the country.

Though there are so many Dalits who are occupying the officess of power in the country, yet there has been no significant change in the wretched condition of the Dalits. Except for a miniscule minority, most of the Dalits are still socially degraded, economically exploited and politically voiceless.

Two simulteanous processes have occured with the above-mentioned socio-political reality of the Dalits in Indian Society. One, there has occured a sub-stratum among them, which is visible, vocal and assertive. Moreover, it has aroused the consciousness among the Dalits independently and believes that Dalits can achieve their rights through independent self-assertion only. The second process is the co-option and marginalization of the Dalits by the dominant Castes/Classes/ Parties in the country. The modus operandi is simple. First co-opt the assertive or potentially assertive Dalits and then maginalize them once they want to do something for their community.

Let us analyse the process of co-option first to prove our point. This process has a history and it still continues. The Congress did so very meticulously. It co-opted Jagjivan Ram to counter the assertion of Ambedkar. Later it co-opted many leaders of the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Dalit Panthers and independents to suppress the Dalit movement and thereby their independent assertion. A glaring example in the contemporary times can be of the President, Mr.K.R. Narayanan. Mr. Narayanan, a student of Harold Laski from London School Of Economics was successfully co-opted by the Congress. It is difficult for Dalits to remember that he did something significant for the upliftment of Dalits till he was in the Congress Party. Many Dalits think he would have contributed to Dalit movement much more with his knowledge, had he struggled like Ambedkar.

Similarly, today BJP has co-opted many Dalits to attract the Dalit votes. B.P.Maurya, Sanghpriya Gautam, Ram Dhan etc. who were the pillars of independent Dalit struggle have been co-opted by the BJP. Their co-option has really confused the Dalit movement and to a certain extent has strengthened the BJP.

Apart from the political parties, the State itself has co-opted many assertive and conscious Dalits in its fold by offering lucrative jobs like the Indian Administrative service (IAS) or Indian Police Service (IPS) etc. How many educated youths come to serve the community is anybody’s guess. Once selected in these services the Dalits, who are usually without any Godfather, put their all efforts for surviving in the service or for promotion and transfer. And then even if they get some time they spend it in looking after their families. Under these circumstances, the community’s interest is neglected.

On the other hand, marginalization of co-opted Dalits is an inevitable process in the Indian society, which retards the rate of their assertion. This process is also very simple. Either the dominant sections do not listen to the co-opted Dalit, or exclude him from the process of decision making or criticize him vehemently and so on and so forth to marginalize him.

It happened to Jagjivan Ram, who was one of the pillars of Indian National Congress and attracted Dalit votes for it. But Indira Gandhi threw him out once he started asserting himself and she was out of crisis. Further Mr. Ram was also not liked by Janata Party leaders. Being one of the founder members of the party, when the question of his nomination to the Prime Ministerial post came up, he was isolated and marginalised within the Party. The aforesaid process still continues. After so many years of Congress slumber, Mr. K.R.Narayanan came out of it and questioned the Judiciary. He only asked for the consideration of appointment of Dalits in the Judiciary, where they have a negligible presence. It shook the whole nation as to how a President can exclusively speak for the Dalits. His words were not taken very kindly by anyone including the Print Media. And in fact his message to Nation on the eve of Republic day-2000, which had a lot of contents about Dalits, was not given much preference in most of the leading national dailies. His activism at the time of proclamation of President’s rule in Bihar also attracted a lot of criticism.

Similarly, an active Governor of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Mr. Suraj Bhan was shunted out of UP Raj Bhavan. Even though he belongs to the Sangh Parivar, he raised a few pertinent issues related to Dalits. The most important being –quesioning of a couplet of Ram Charit Manas. Which is derogatory to Dalits and Women alike. Moreover Mr. Bhan highlighted the rampant corruption in the realm of education in the State. Irregularities in the distribution of Rs.380 crores of scholarship to the Dalits and in their appointments in different Universities, which were questioned by him, became too heavy for the upper caste dominated BJP and Mr. Bhan was ousted out unceremoniously.

The saga of marginalizaton of the first Dalit President of BJP is not too different from the above mentioned co-opted Dalit leaders. Belonging to the sub caste of Madigas of Andhra Pradesh and first generation leaders of the Jana Sangh, it is a fact that Mr. Bangaru has come to this level with great difficulty. But once he has come to this level, he has been marginalised from the decision making process of the party. His total exclusion from the process of nomination of Chief Ministers of three states, of which two were newly formed, is testimony to the above fact. Further, the reservation shown by Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS) to accord him the same status as accorded to other BJP presidents, at its 75th anniversary Shivir also proves his marginalization.

We can conclude from the above that though democratic and independent India has produced sufficient conditions where Dalits can also occupy the offices of power, yet there has not been any significant change in their socio-political status in the country. On the other hand, the patronizing tendencies of co-option and marginalization of assertive or potentially assertive Dalits by dominant castes/classes/parties have subjugated the Dalit assertion for the perpetuation of their hegemony. Hence, the Dalit assertion has to demolish these tendencies so that they can taste the fruits of democracy on their own without any patronage of others and strengthen Indian Democracy. Otherwise their movement will remain divided.

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