The idea of subaltern Hindutva is an impressive political campaign that has helped the BJP to shape its image as a party of all Hindus. (File)

It is fashionable to suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the post-2014 period has emerged as an all-inclusive party with growing support from Dalit-Bahujan groups. It is also noted that the BJP has influenced sections among Dalits by executing smart socio-cultural strategies and by honouring Babasaheb Ambedkar as a nationalist icon. Although the rhetoric about the emergence of “subaltern Hindutva” is impressive, the recent rise in the number of cases of caste atrocities and the increase in state action against Dalit socio-political activists, show that the Hindutva regime lacks political accountability towards Dalit social and political concerns. It disregards the legacies of Dalit movements, which confronted the domination of social elites and discriminatory religious ideas. Instead, even flimsy criticism of Hindutva’s cultural values today has to face stiff institutional action or public punishment. The recent dismissal of Mithilesh Gautam, a Dalit faculty member at Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidhyapith, Varanasi, for his social media post about Navratri celebrations, only shows how the BJP regime has become increasingly intolerant of Dalit ideological challenges.

The post-Ambedkar Dalit movements have hailed the egalitarian teachings of the Buddha, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Chokha Mela, etc., and reinvented the rich heritage of non-Brahmanical traditions. The heroic struggles of Jyotiba Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar against Brahminical hegemony further inspired the Dalit-Bahujan political class to counter the right-wing socio-political agenda. They represented a transformative ideological spectrum that has consistently criticised the ruling socio-political elites for keeping the Dalit-Bahujan masses poor, alienating them from power and treating them with indignity in social relationships. Although these movements have failed to arrest the Hindutva juggernaut and eventually become a marginalised political force, their ideological challenges to the establishment are still alive. Some sections among the Dalits may have moved into the right-wing camp but there remains a strong presence of assertive Dalits, possessed of powerful socio-political consciousness, and ready to challenge the conventional social authorities fearlessly.

For traditional Hindutva proponents, the Dalit-Bahujan ideological school is a bête-noir that must be clamped down on with coercive and violent means. This independent Dalit presence has been treated as an ideological challenge to the Hindutva camp and therefore disciplinary state action is prescribed to curb it. Now, Dalit protests against social injustices, their ideological thoughts and even criticism of the current dispensation are condemned as anti-Hindu, criminal or even anti-national. The continued imprisonment of Anand Teltumbde, a Dalit scholar and social activist, testifies to the state’s opposition to radical Dalit activism. Recently, the police booked a Dalit faculty member of the University of Lucknow for hurting religious sentiments after he offered a critical view on the Gyanvapi mosque issue. Similarly, Professor Ratan Lal of Delhi University’s Hindu College was arrested for a satirical social media post referring to claims of a shivling being found at the Gyanvapi mosque.

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