The resignation of Aam Aadmi Party minister in Delhi Rajendra Pal Gautam for participating in a mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism, reflects several important aspects of the present state of Indian politics.
But before we get to that, a few facts.
The fact is that Rajendra Pal Gautam did nothing wrong. He participated in a ceremony that was initiated none other than by Babasaheb Ambedkar.
The alleged "remarks against Hindu Gods" were just a vow that after conversion to Buddhism, people won't worship Hindu deities such as Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, Ram, Krishna, Gauri and Ganpati. This is part of Babasaheb's 22 vows and at no point were the deities abused, unlike what the BJP is claiming.
The function itself takes place every year in different parts of the country to commemorate Babasaheb's conversion to Buddhism.
(Read this piece by The Quint's Tejas Harad to know more about the ceremony)
Yet, Gautam was targeted as having attacked Hindus. BJP leaders even filed a police complaint against him. And then he had to resign.
On Tuesday 11 October, he had to sit for at the police station, missing Valmiki Jayanti celebrations at his home.
Now, there are four aspects that emerge from this episode.
1. Ambedkarite Buddhism Under Attack
Gautam has been dignified in his response and said after resigning that the "shackles have broken" and that he is resigning to save his party from further harm".
The fact remains that Gautam was targeted and made to resign for taking part in a ceremony that is central to Ambedkarite Buddhism.
It is as basic as penalising a Muslim for reciting the Kalma Shahada, a Sikh for taking Amrit or a Christian for undergoing Baptism.
Therefore, Gautam has been made an example of. It is a way of sending a message that a politician will be labelled 'anti-Hindu' if he takes part in such a ceremony and that his political party would also be made to pay the political price.
It is a message to both presently practising as well as potential Ambedkarite Buddhists in politics and government service. And this has been among the most politically articulate sections within the Dalit community.
Beyond this, it is a message to all minority religions that any attempt to reduce Hindu numbers through conversions, even those conversions taking place due to the discrimination within Hinduism, will be targeted.
It is also a sign that though Islam and Christianity may be the main targets, other religions wouldn't be spared if they show Hinduism in bad light.
2. Babasaheb Minus His Politics
The attack by the BJP is despite the fact that the party has desperately been trying to appropriate Babasaheb as an icon.
It is clear that BJP views this strand of politics as a major threat and its invocation of Babasaheb is nothing but lip service.
But even if one forgets the BJP for a moment, the AAP doesn't come out of the entire episode looking very good either. It is clear that they have prioritised their election campaign in Gujarat over standing by its own minister. That Dalits are just about 7 percent in Gujarat and Ambedkarite Dalits much lesser, make it easier for AAP to make this compromise.
Hardly any top leader has come out in defence of Rajendra Pal Gautam.
In contrast, the entire party machinery was deployed to defend Satyendra Jain, Manish Sisodia and even Vijay Nair. This is a party whose chief Arvind Kejriwal often releases pictures with a giant potrait of Babasaheb Ambedkar behind him and a party which announced that Babasaheb's pictures would be put up in all government offices in Punjab along with Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
It seems the party wants Babasaheb as a picture but can't handle his politics.
It is also strange that Sisodia proudly flaunts being a Rajput and 'a descendant of Maharana Pratap', Kejriwal has often mentioned that he is a member of the Agrawal Samaj, so why was it so problematic for Rajendra Pal Gautam to be a proud Ambedkarite Buddhist?
Curiously, even the Congress briefly joined the bandwagon attacking Gautam with the Delhi Youth Congress putting out a tweet accusing Gautam of insulting Hindu gods and goddesses. However, they deleted the tweet after facing criticism.
3. Declining Space for Ambekdarite Politics
The entire incident brought out the declining space for Ambedkarite politics. There trend to see it as "anti-Hindu" has always been there but it has been increasing with the rising dominance of Hindutva.
Even in the Delhi riots of 2020, The Quint reported how Hindutva groups targeted Ambedkarites and Ragini Tiwari even calling for them to be killed.
It has also become easier for Dalits to be punished just for criticising aspects of Hinduism.
For instance recently Kashi Vidyapeeth lecturer Mithilesh Kumar Gautam was dismissed just for saying that Hindu women should read the Hindu code bill and the Indian Constitution instead of facting on Navratra.
This kind of targeting of Ambedkarites and Dalits has become possible because electorally the fortunes of the BSP and Ambedkarite parties like the RPI have been on the wane.
Once the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh and a key national player, the BSP was reduced to just one seat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
It has become virtually non-existent in Delhi and it is AAP and leaders like Rajendra Pal Gautam who have been the main beneficiaries from this decline.
In Gautam's constituency Seemapuri in Northeast Delhi, the BSP had a decent vote share of over 10 percent between 2003 and 2013. But it was reduced to a marginal place in AAP's 2015 and 2020 wins.
4. Hindutva Hegemony
It is clear that Hindutva has come to occupy a hegemonic space within Indian politics. BJP leaders like Parvesh Verma, Nand Kishor Gujjar recently made alleged hate remarks in Delhi and there has been no hue and cry or police action.
AAP's silence on any issues concerning minorities and now on the attack on its own minister, is also a result of this Hindutva hegemony.
Due to this Hindutva dominance, a politicised section within the majority community is getting some sort of a veto power that is determining the choices of not just the BJP but also many non-BJP parties. Outside of politics, it is also greatly shaping discourse in the media and even films.