Senior BJP leader and former Union minister Sanjay Paswan, who is seen as the strongest Dalit voice of the party, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the issue of Dalits and the recent Uttar Pradesh results.

Q. In which direction is the “New Dalit Politics” heading? Do you think that the young generation of Dalits have a different worldview as compared to the previous generation?

A. Dalits seek to get rid of “exclusionary” politics and are anxious to join the bandwagon of a holistic inclusionary process with their own inherent and intrinsic contributing factors. Parties and leaders should move beyond mere optics and ensure representation of the subaltern in the basic structure of their respective parties. For instance, empowering Dalits to key decision making positions can be one such way forward. In Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is witnessing bold leadership. Now is the time to look within and integrate the subaltern into the mainstream decisively.

Q. The present government has completed almost three years under the leadership of Narendra Modi, with schemes like Stand-up India for Dalit empowerment taking place. Is the focus of welfare paradigm shifting from “entitlement” to “empowerment”? 

A. Yes. Gone are the days where doles proclaimed our very existence. With the emergence of DICCI and several other institutions, Dalits are moving towards celebrating “victory hood” rather than being stuck in the age of “victimhood”. With schemes like Stand up India, National SC/ST Hub today a Dalit can fearlessly venture into entrepreneurship and transform into a job giver from being merely a job seeker. That is the real-time transformation we seek.

Q. Is the BJP undergoing a change in the way it looks towards the Dalits, considering that it has been seen as a “Brahmin-Baniya” party? 

A. The result of Uttar Pradesh and other states clearly indicates that people have voted on the basis of their aspirations and have risen above the parochial concerns of community, caste and religion. Almost all the reserved Assembly constituencies have been won by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by resounding margins. This clearly emphasis establishes the shifting of non-Jatav Dalits as well as a section of Jatavs towards the BJP. Media analysts and political pundits should read and analyse these trends and the shifting focus and realign the political narrative with the evolving aspirations, opportunities and challenges before the Dalit youth today.

Q. In the recent UP elections, the NDA (BJP, Apna Dal, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party) won on 69 out of the reserved 85 seats. How do you see this trend? Did the NDA win because Dalits wanted it to win or it is because the Dalits wanted to defeat the ruling Samajwadi party?

A. Non Brahmin and non-Bania people have embraced BJP in a big way. Our big leaders have been persuading the rank and file to change their attitude and mindset to retain in party fold. And as pointed out previously also, Dalits have decisively voted to oust the SP, BSP and the Congress. Now we will have to deliver on the electoral promises made in the party manifesto.

Q. A party like BSP, whose ideology in based on “Dalit empowerment” could only win on 19 seats despite holding on to its vote share of around 20%. Does this suggest that politics driven by only caste consideration is losing its relevance?

A. Caste is a reality, casteism is brutality. Yet Hinduism is full of charity, so we must revisit caste and not ignore it. Any major conflict emerges whenever there is a friction due to lack of interaction between the communities. Political processes enable constructive dialogues to bridge differences.

Q. There is criticism from certain quarters that Dalit leaders in BJP have not got their due position in the party. How would you respond to these observations?

A. Dalits have been getting their due but are not being pampered. I also maintain that there is ample and enough space for all generation Dalit leader. I am sure the leadership would include all the relevant stakeholders in the way ahead.

Q. Is the BJP ready to support the Janata Dal United in Bihar, especially in the context of the war of words that has been happening between the RJD and the JDU leaders over the change of CM in the state?

A. To go alone in Bihar is advisable in terms of developing a robust and more decentralised organisational framework, but even if JDU decides to align with the NDA, it must take into account the significant inroads made by the party across India and also consider the fact that there is a BJP-led government at the Centre.

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