BJP’s Rising Dalit Love Down South

By Sunil Dang

In 1980 when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was formed, its founders openly claimed themselves right-wingers in the Indian polity. However, it was not enough for them to gain traction among the voters and they could win only two seats in their first Lok Sabha polls in 1984. Even their stalwarts Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to win his traditional Gwalior seat. It forced them to pun their right-wing politics, which they did by adding flavor of ‘Hindu nationalism’ in it. But, major boost was gained in Hindutva politics when the BJP entered into the temple politics raising demand for building Ram Temple in Ayodhya. This suddenly became a talking point among all Hindus, especially the forward castes, who were dominant into the cow belt politics. This Ram Temple drive helped BJP gallop the forward caste votes of the Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh and some parts of united Bihar — states that send 129 (85 from UP, 54 from Bihar) Lok Sabha members at that time. As a result, the BJP won 85 Lok Sabha seats in 1989 Lok Sabha polls, which further jumped to 120 in 1991. This rise continued till 1999, which forced the Congress Party to forge alliance with likeminded parties to take on formidable forward-OBC combination of the BJP in 2004. This Congress step paid dividends and the ‘party with difference’ had to face an unexpected defeat in 2004 Lok Sabha Polls. But, the BJP failed to assess its reason for defeat and hence got defeated in 2009 Lok Sabha Polls too.

After 2009 Lok Sabha debacle, BJP and the RSS realized that opposition is not only backed by Dalit-Muslim combination, some section of the dominant OBCs have too aligned with the Congress Party through some strong regional satraps like Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar, RLD’s Ajit Singh in UP, Shibu Soren in Jharkhand etc. So, BJP and RSS coined an idea to attract inclusive Hindutva with mild flavor of nationalism that helped BJP to get support of Forward, some fringe OBC and Dalit communities to reach above the 30 percent vote bank on its own. Their aggressive Hindutva got further traction when Narendra Modi took over. But still, in this land slide victory, BJP could muster mere 31 percent of the net votes and that too mainly in northern India, which I think both Amit Shah and Narendra Modi know very well.

Probably, Shah-Modi combo is aware that they would be losing a good number of seats in north India and to compensate those loses, they have to reach out to the southern support base. In fact, RSS is quite instrumental in states like Kerala, Telangana and Andhra. But, there is a twist there. In northern part, their target vote bank was forward caste, but in southern India, they are targeting Dalits and again temple is their tool to reach out to their target vote bank. In Kerala, they got a support base in the form of Mata Amritananmai, who has a strong support base among fishermen community along the coastal Kerala. In Telangana and coastal Andhra, BJP has been strong in some districts since its inception but due to the lack of strong state level face, it couldn’t become a state level party till date.

Now, with idea of Dalit should be allowed to enter temples — temples have a huge role in south Indian politics — BJP is trying to reach out to those Dalit communities who have strong hold in the south Indian politics. But, to their surprise, there also, the saffron brigade is trying to polarize the society. Not on the religious line but on the upper and lower caste bias. So, BJP’s jibe of ‘Dalit Entry in Temples’ is nothing but a political stunt to gain traction that can help them establish foothold in south Indian politics.