All the Times ‘Dalit Dinners’ Went Wrong for BJP Ministers

PM Modi had urged BJP ministers to spend one night in a village with more than 50 percent Dalit population.

Updated
India
6 min read
With a series of gaffes and outrageous comments from its ministers, where does BJP’s Dalit outreach programme stand?
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Earlier in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s outreach programme ‘Gram Swaraj Abhiyan’, urged his party ministers to spend at least one night in one of the 20,000 villages that have more than 50 percent Dalit population.

Nearly a month down the line, with a series of gaffes and outrageous comments from his ministers, where does this outreach programme stand?

Gaffe 1: ‘Ministers Spend Nights in Villages Despite Mosquito Bites’

On 5 May, Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Minister Anupama Jaiswal said that BJP ministers visit Dalit homes to ensure the poor can avail government benefits despite facing "mosquito bites the whole night".

The ministers have to face mosquito bites the whole night, still they visit the villages.
Anupama Jaiswal, Uttar Pradesh Basic Education minister

If a minister gets an opportunity to hold two chaupals (village meetings), he wants to take four more such meetings, she added.

Gaffe 2: Uma Bharti Skips Event Organised for Meals with Dalits, Apologies Later

Union Minister and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharti, on 1 May, refused to partake in a community meal with Dalits at an event near Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, saying she was not Lord Rama who would purify people by having food with them.

In her clarification, Bharti has said that from the dais itself she had told the gathering that she was unaware that she is supposed to have food at the event and that she doesn’t believe she has the power to purify anyone.

I don’t go to the houses of Dalits to have meals, though I support this trait (breaking bread with people of an underprivileged caste).
Uma Bharti

She said that instead she invites Dalits to her home to have food.

"I want to share a secret with you. I don't take part in 'samrasta bhoj' (community meals) because I do not consider myself Lord Rama, who went to Shabri's home and the Dalit became purified," she said.

She added that she believes that when she serves food to Dalits on her dining table, "her place... utensils will attain purity."

Subsequently, a statement issued on behalf of Bharti said that she had clarified from the dais during the programme that she was not aware that she was supposed to take food in the programme, organised by her close associate Harshu Maharaj.

"I had to go to Papoda in Tikamgarh district, which is 150 kms away from here, and meet Vidyasagar Maharaj. Therefore, I apologised for not taking meals with them," Bharti was quoted as saying.

She added that the time has gone when one needed to have food with Dalits to bring about "samrasta" (harmony).

Gaffe 3: Dinner at Dalit Home, But Food Bought From Outside

Suresh Rana, a minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet, triggered a controversy after he reportedly brought with him his own food and water at a dinner hosted at a Dalit household in Aligarh on the night of 30 April.

Rana, however, rejected the allegation saying, "The food was prepared in the village, by the villagers themselves."

The BJP leader's clarification came against the backdrop of reports that he and his aides had gone to the house of the Dalit family to dine with them on 30 April night, but ordered food, mineral water and cutlery from outside as the family was not aware of the minister's visit.

I didn’t even know they are coming for dinner, they came suddenly. All food, water and cutlery they had arranged from outside.
Rajnish Kumar, house owner

Pictures of the well laid out dining table with an assortment of dishes and cutlery went viral on the social media.

All the Times ‘Dalit Dinners’ Went Wrong for BJP Ministers
All the Times ‘Dalit Dinners’ Went Wrong for BJP Ministers

Asked to comment on the house owner's claim that he was unaware of the dinner he was supposed to host and that he was woken up from his sleep at around 11 PM to entertain the guests, Rana said, "This is a piece of information you are giving me. The entire family was sitting with me during the dinner. I saw a news clip that claimed that food was brought from outside or some hotel. The food was prepared in that village itself by the villagers."

Claiming that those who did politics from their "plush drawing rooms, five-star hotels and AC rooms" had problems with the BJP reaching the "gaaon, gareeb and Dalits (the villages, the poor and the Dalits)", Rana said, "I will invite them to spend a night in Lohagarh village and only then will they realise."

Throwing an open challenge to his critics Rana, on Friday, said that "Dalit tourism" is not in the BJP's tradition.

“Adityanath’s Chaupal at Dalit Home an Eyewash”

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath recently spent one night each in Amroha and Pratapgarh and held "chaupal" to take feedback on government schemes. He had his dinner at a Dalit house, which was criticised by opposition Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

"How can the BJP wish away the anger and bad name it has earned by going all out to crush their voice during the 'Bharat Bandh' on 2 April and over its stand on dilution of the SC/ST Act... these programmes are merely an effort to somehow divert attention and a drama to show they are very concerned about Dalit issues," a BSP leader had said reacting to the CM's visit.

BSP supremo Mayawati also questioned the purpose of having dinner with Dalit families when the government has been "adopting anti-Dalit policies".

First Congress leaders dined at the homes of Dalits and announced it to the world. Now, the BJP is walking its footsteps. While people think that they are eating food cooked by Dalits, the reality is that it is prepared by upper castes in their own homes.
Mayawati, BSP Chief

She has accused the BJP of "totally ignoring" the welfare of Dalits, adivasis, OBCs and upper caste poor and said that organising dinners was putting them in further trouble.

They do not care about the Dalit and backward classes but when elections come, they go for photo-ops and drama. The Congress and the BJP have proved to be two sides of the same coin. People won’t be fooled, they know the truth.
Mayawati, BSP Chief

Do Not Do Drama: RSS Condemns BJP’s Outreach Programme

Rashtriya Swayan Sevak’s (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, as per a report in Deccan Chronicle, at a meeting of senior leaders of the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad on Wednesday in New Delhi, criticised the BJP’s programme and asked them “not to do drama”.

In a statement on 5 May, RSS' 'prachar pramukh' (chief information officer) Arun Kumar rejected as "baseless and misguiding" the media reports about Mohan Bhagwat.

No such meeting was ever held in Delhi during the last few days where anything about BJP’s Gram Swaraj Abhiyan was said.
Arun Kumar, RSS’ ‘prachar pramukh’ (chief information officer)

However, RSS Joint-Secretary Manmohan Vaidya on Friday, 5 May told The Quint that the organisation did not agree with the BJP’s idea that its party leaders must spend a night at a Dalit’s house and also share meals with them.

Criticising the BJP’s Dalit outreach attempt, Vaidya added that while connecting with Dalits was important, it should be “natural” and not staged.

BJP Faces Flak From Within

Not just RSS, BJP’s Dalit outreach programme has been opposed by many within the party, including sitting MPs.

Bahraich BJP MP Sadhvi Savitri Bai Phoole voiced her concern on Friday, 5 May, saying that politicians rush to Dalit households to break bread with them but eventually end up ordering food from outside, therefore "insulting" the people belonging to weaker sections.

Even BJP MP Udit Raj has opposed his party's outreach programme, saying it would not bring any electoral gains to the party and rather makes Dalits feel "inferior".

The North West Delhi MP, in a series of tweets, said that Rahul Gandhi, who visited the Dalits to have food with them, led to the Congress defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections, and the same would happen with those doing it now.

"This is my social view. I can have a personal view. Not only the party but the entire country, the 'Sawarn Samaj' (upper caste) should think about it. Now, just eating food will not help, it makes them feel inferior," Raj said.

But the bottom line remains:
With Dalits constituting around 18 to 20 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s voting population, no party can choose to alienate them in the upcoming 2019 general elections.

(With inputs from agencies)

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