Why the Congress party’s newfound concern towards the Dalits of Gujarat stands on shaky ground
Dear Mr Gandhi,
Reports in the media show you were “caught napping” during an important debate yesterday in the Lok Sabha, on the attacks on Dalits in Gujarat. It could be true, but only you can confirm that fact. Yet, when it comes to Gujarat, when have you or your party ever been awake?
It seems that you are visiting Una to console Dalits in Gujarat. You must be aware, of course, that Punjabhai Bhimabhai Vansh, the MLA who represents the local assembly constituency is from your party. One hopes that you have enquired from him how such an atrocity could have been committed on Dalits in a Congress-led constituency. The Una constituency has elected Congress legislators nine times in the 12 assembly elections held in Gujarat since 1962. Surprisingly, only once has the BJP won that seat. The people of Una did not desert the Congress even after the riots in Gujarat in 2002. Not just those in Una, but a large portion of Gujarat’s Dalit community have vested their faith in you. With no other alternative in sight, even Muslims in Gujarat have relied on the Congress. How have you protected their trust?
A Congress government was in power in the year 1969, before you were born. But you may know how the government, led by Chief Minister Hitendra Desai, handled the riots that year. The government’s official statistic states that 660 people died and 1074 people were injured. About 48,000 people were rendered homeless.
Although the report submitted in 1971 by the Justice Jaganmohan Reddy Commission of Inquiry noted clearly that even the police were party to the violence during the riots, no action was taken by the government. Just a couple of days before the riots broke out, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh’s Balraj Madhok was busy making provocative speeches, on September 14 and 15, 1969. The Congress government did not take the trouble to arrest him. Likewise, neither was any Muslim provocateur arrested. Did your own party’s government at the centre fire the Hitendra Desai administration? No.
To date, a total of 245 riots have taken place since 1950 in Gujarat. Congress governments were in power through most of them. Has the Congress Party apologised even once to the people for those riots? Among the several lives lost in the 1969 riots, a great number of them were of Dalit workers of Ahmedabad’s textile mills.
But, let such bygones be bygones.
More recently, after the 2002 riots, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind submitted a list of names to party president Mrs Sonia Gandhi, of about 25 Congress leaders accused of actively participating in the riots. The organisation followed it up with letters urging that action be taken against them. There is no record to show how your party acted on this information. So, what exactly is the difference between you and “others”?
According to former DGP of Gujarat, R.B. Sreekumar (who blew the whistle on the Modi government’s role in 2002 riots), for days after the riots, instead of visiting the grief-stricken family of Ehsan Jafri to offer their condolences, Congress leaders summoned them to the Circuit House. He alleges, in his recently published book (Gujarat: Behind the Curtain), that the Congress leaders even stopped Sonia Gandhi from visiting them.
But for offering a few statements to the media, the Congress was almost invisible during the Sadbhavana fast and rally, launched in September 2011 by the Modi government in Gujarat to make people forget the past and adopt “development” as their new mantra.
Your newfound concern towards the Dalits stands on shaky ground.
Just as BSP leader Mayawati has said in the past, when it comes to Dalits, the Congress has done nothing but natak baazi. If the Congress and your legislator had been diligent in your elected role in Una, how could it have been possible for anyone to attack innocent Dalit youth, in full public view, in broad daylight? What did the legislator do after the attack? Was a complaint registered by the legislator’s office? As the main party in opposition in Gujarat, when the Congress has hardly taken up the concerns of Gujarat’s Dalits and Backward Classes, now as you rush to Gujarat to gain political mileage, should the Dalits believe you?
Of the 33 district committees of Congress in Gujarat, only two are presided over by Dalits. No important posts have been given to Dalits in the Gujarat state unit of the Congress. In October 2014, 25 Dalit leaders from your party, including a Rajya Sabha member and a legislator from Gujarat, met the Congress high command to seek adequate representation of Dalits in the state unit. What did the Congress do to address the issue?
More for you to ponder on: The recommendations made by the Thorat committee which investigated caste discrimination of Dalit and Adivasi students in AIIMS, New Delhi, were not implemented by your party’s government. More recently, would you say that the role of the Telangana state government, whom you support, has been insignificant in the case of Rohit Vemula’s death and its aftermath? Why has the plight of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, ruled by your favourite ally, Samajwadi Party, escaped your party’s notice? The concern expressed by the Congress party, which only wakes up when Dalits are attacked, is more harmful than the BJP’s (and others’) role in the growing number of assaults on Dalits.
Quacks administering bogus medicines are more potent than the virus that spread the disease. All said, your slumber is not as harmful as the terminal condition of those Bahujans, who have gone to sleep having trusted you.
A Sleep Buster
(Translated from the original Kannada by Vinutha Mallya)
Shridhar Prabhu is a lawyer based in Bengaluru. He writes in Kannada. His columns have appeared in Kannada Prabha and Vartamana, among other publications.