This article was originally published on June 13, 2018. It is being republished on December 6, 2018 after Savitri Bai Phule resigned from the BJP.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Savitri Bai Phule from UP’s Bahraich district recently threw a gauntlet at her party, slamming the government over reservations and attacks on Dalits. She even described Jinnah as a ‘mahapurush’ (great man), and organised a “Bharatiya Samvidhan Bachao (Save the Indian Constitution)” rally in Lucknow on April 1.
Claiming that the Constitution was under threat, she said, “Sometimes they (the BJP) claim they will change the Constitution, sometimes they say they’ll scrap reservations. Baba Saheb (B.R Ambedkar)’s Constitution is under threat.”
After the recent controversy over Jinnah’s portrait at Aligarh Muslim University, Phule had said that “Muhammed Ali Jinnah is a ‘mahapurush’ (great man), and will always remain so. He contributed to India’s freedom struggle and his portrait needs to find a place where it is required.”
Speaking to The Wire, Phule responded to all the questions. There were, however, some questions (listed below) that she refused to answer.
– How do you view four years of Narendra Modi’s term?
– Why did you leave the Bahujan Samaj Party to join the BJP?
– Do you stand by your statement that Jinnah is a great man and his portrait should be placed everywhere?
– What do you think of PM Modi’s leadership?
During the interview a senior colleague accompanied her, guiding her on which questions to answer and how. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
AS: In a rally on April 1, you had said that the Constitution is under threat. With your party in power at both the Centre and the State, where is the threat to the Constitution coming from?
SBP: All of you must have heard through the medium of radio, newspapers and television, how it is being said that we are here to change the Constitution, or that it will be reviewed. And that reservations will be scrapped. (Senior BJP leader) Subramanian Swamy recently stated that the Constitution will be changed in such a way that reservations will be rendered useless. If this happens, the Bahujan samaj will lose all their rights.
If today a member of the Bahujan community has the opportunity to become a pradhan, block president, district panchayat member, legislator, professor, doctor, chief minister, prime minister or president, it is only because of the Constitution written by Babasaheb, and the reservation policy. And yet, there is a conspiracy to dismantle the Constitution and end reservations. If that happens, what will happen to the rights of the Bahujan community? What will be their condition ?
Not just us, but even some judges of the Supreme Court have expressed fear that democracy is under threat.
Today, Scheduled Caste girls are doused in petrol and set on fire. If a Bahujan community member rides a horse, he is gunned down. Villages are set on fire. A series of mob killings are taking place. Babasaheb’s statues are being routinely demolished. And instead of arresting the culprits, those complaining against such incidents are being arrested and framed with serious charges.
On April 2, the Bahujan samaj called for an all-India bandh. They raised their demands in a peaceful way. But the anti-Constitution, anti-reservation and anti-Bahujan samaj elements opened fire on them in which several members of the community were martyred.
The Constitution of India is one of the best Constitutions in the world which gives equal rights to everyone, rising above caste, religion, community and gender. But it has not been fully implemented. Had it been so, poverty would have been totally erased from the country. Instead, there are efforts to change and finally scrap the Constitution.
My demand from the government is that a caste-based census be carried out to find out the economic status of all castes. Today, the bahujan community is forced to struggle to earn their daily bread. They have neither jobs, nor land, nor property. The are living in jhuggis along roads, railway lines, rivers and ponds and working as slaves to eke out a living.
Since you are a member of the ruling party both the Centre and the state (Uttar Pradesh), is your fight against your own party and government?
Today, I am an elected a member of Parliament from Bahraich, a reserved constituency, thanks to the Constitution given to us by Babasaheb.
I have raised this issue in Lok Sabha as well. I have been highlighting the injustice done to the Bahujan samaj in Parliament since 2014. I am an MP even today and if I don’t raise my voice against the injustice meted out to my community now, it would be pointless to do so when I am no longer an MP. Moreover, had my voice as an MP been heard, I would not have had to resort to this agitation.
Since you have a long association with the BJP, do you feel your party works for the benefit of the Bahujan community?
I would say that now only a party that talks about Bahujans, fights for their rights, raises its voice for them, and provides them with food, clothing, housing, shall rule the country.
In UP, the opposition (Samajwadi Party and BSP) is building a ‘grand coalition’ against your party. What is your view on it?
It is better if this question is posed to those parties. But, ideologies should be aligned. All parties should talk about the interests of the Bahujan samaj. I want all political parties to unite to get the Constitution of India implemented fully.
Tell us how you entered politics?
I received a scholarship when I was in the eighth standard. Earlier, the scholarship amount used to be credited in the school principal’s account.The money was not given to me. When I demanded it from him, he kicked me out of the school. For three years, I was not given the transfer certificate and the mark sheet. After this, I appeared in the Janata Darbar of then chief minister, Mayawati. I got admission after her intervention. This is what inspired me to enter politics.
Today, I draw inspiration from Ambedkar, Kanshiram, Shahuji Maharaj and Jyotiba Phule in my fight for the rights of the Bahujan samaj. I had no possessions when I started, I don’t have any now, nor will I have any in the future. I have thrice been elected zila panchayat member, once a councillor and once an MP, but even today I do not possess a plot of land, nor have a bank balance. I don’t care whether I remain an MP or not. What I care for are the rights of the Bahujan samaj.
There are many other parties in UP whose politics revolves around the Bahujans. Can one expect you to join any of them in the near future?
I will respect any party that fights for the rights of the Bahujan samaj.
Despite your party leaders and PM Modi speaking about protecting the Constitution, why do you think the Constitution is in danger?
It is not me, but the judges of the country who are saying that there is a threat to democracy. After getting elected, all leaders take an oath that they will not discriminate and will follow the Constitution. But when they fail to stand by their promise, the people of the Bahujan samaj will have to think twice.
Your opponents accuse you of remaining silent for four years and speaking against the BJP during the election year.
I don’t care about my opponents. I used to speak against injustice and exploitation of the Bahujan samaj when I was an MLA in 2012. Now that I am an MP, I continue to raise my voice.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman