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Dalits Cheated Once Again

By Chandrabhan Prasad

06 June, 2004
The Pioneer

This is unbelievable, even inconceivable. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)'s Dalit related Common Minimum Programme (CMP) does not seem to carry the consent of Sonia Gandhi or Premier Manmohan Singh.

Did they have time to personally supervise the drafting of the CMP and match it with the manifesto of their party at a time when various coalition patinas were involved in a dog-fight over cash-rich ministries? Both Sonia and Singh must have been busy negotiating and renegotiating with the warring groups over how to appear humble while sharing the booty. What may actually have happened is that some small time IAS babu, or worse, a hanger-on with expertise in only drafting daily press notes, was asked to prepare the CMP. The other senior Congress leaders cannot be blamed as they were too were busy guarding their own interests.

Liberalisation, with an in-built verdict for privatisation, is the biggest challenge faced by the Dalits today. They are seeking their rights in the post-liberalised regime. Of late, a representative section of the Dalits has begun demanding a slice of the economy in servicing government purchases and contracts. The Congress, under Sonia, was honest to recognise the aspirations of the Dalits, and this reflected in the party's manifesto. Its manifesto promised the following for the Dalits: "The Congress will create a national consensus on the issue of Dalits and Adivasis getting a reasonable share of jobs in the private sector. A dialogue with private industry will be initiated to identify how best Indian industry could fulfill in tangible measure the aspirations of youth, especially those belonging to the weaker sections of society. Determined efforts will be made to promote a culture of entrepreneurship among the Dalits and Adivasis by providing businesses run by them with preferential treatment in government procurement and by extending bank credit at affordable terms" (Page 21, sub-section on "Dalits and Adivasis").

But, the CMP released by the UPA Chairperson, Sonia, when the government had actually come into being, offers the following to the Dalits: "The UPA is very sensitive to the issue of affirmative action, including reservations, in the private sector. It will immediately initiate a national dialogue with all political parties, industry and other organisations to see best the private sector can fulfill the aspirations of scheduled castes and scheduled tribe youth". (Page 7, sub-section on "Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes"). Thus, in one stroke, the following, crucial line, simply disappeared: "Determined efforts will be made to promote a culture of entrepreneurship among the Dalits and Adivasis by providing businesses run by them with preferential treatment in government procurement and by extending bank credit at affordable terms". How can this happen with Sonia or Singh's approval? After all, the same people had promised much more before the polls.

How is it possible for the same people to dilute their lofty objective? Even if we assume that Sonia and Singh had actually seen this (neither can claim not to have seen the draft CMP), but had decided to delete it, then there must have been some very serious political reasons behind the change of heart. It may have been so compelling that the same Sonia, who had just made the greatest sacrifice a politician can make, had to forego the Dalits' interest. After all, the Dalits had constituted the most loyal support base of the party. The point from the Agenda which stands deleted dealt with Dalits' share in government purchases and contracts. The government of India is one of the largest customers of goods and services, and to set aside the Dalits' share is well within a government's own right. A one-line instruction from the PMO to all departments would have been enough. Now, the UPA's CMP has deleted that and retained the 'national dialogue' clause for reservations in the private sector, a process that can go on for years. Among the Congress' post-poll allies, only three formations have extended support: The Left, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, all from outside. Only the Left had the privilege of examining the CMP. Inside the alliance, the Laloo brigade, the DMK-led Dravidian parties, Nationalist Congress Party and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party can be the other suspects. Well, which party had its way in depriving the Dalits may never be known to outsiders.

But the Congress has dented its own image among the politically conscious section of Dalits. Even Sonia Gandhi is perceived as a suspect, howsoever unfair it may be. The Congress had ruled India for over four decade, and nothing great came to the Dalits. Disenchantment crept in by the mid 1980s. Several theories came into circulation, one being that the Congress "sweet-poisons" the Dalits. Now, the "national dialogue" promise is seen as the Congress modakam laced with poison. But what is missing in this invocation is a distinction one ought to make. This is not a case of the robber throwing the passenger off the running train after looting him. But we have here a kindly sort of robber, who offers a Modakam, laced with poison which the passenger relishes it and goes on to dies a slow death. The new Dalits must make a judicious choice.