Democracy in India is not worthless. It disseminates democratic resources and benefits of state-led policies and programmes to people. But, that doesn’t include everyone. It disseminates state-sponsored opportunities and support to only those who have acquired capacities to take them. Elections come and go, governments too come and go but some communities have not yet acquired the capacity needed to fulfill their democratic desires, to shape their politics of assertions, and to raise their voice.
In my book ‘Fractured Tales’ (2016), I have analysed how only few Dalit communities in India have acquired visibility, while most of them remain invisible. In Uttar Pradesh, I identified around 45-50 marginal communities that are yet to reap the benefits of democracy despite a relatively long Dalit-Bahujan regime under Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Where are these communities now? Have they managed to acquire a voice? Did they get their share in democratic politics? Answers to these questions are hard to come by but efforts to study and document their present status by academicians, activists and journalists can help us get an idea about their social-political conditions.
Local Leaders are Emerging
Around 66 Scheduled Caste (SC) communities reside in Uttar Pradesh. Of them, not more than 10 communities have acquired political visibility and claimed some share in the political democracy. Some of these communities are Jatavs, Pasis, Dhobis, Koris, Valmikis. There are several reasons behind their rising political capital—impressive number of voters, an educated middle class that is slowly but surely growing, increasing economic mobility and finally, emergence of community leaders.
In contrast, communities like Musahars (rat pickers), Hari (beggars), Kuchbadhiya, Dom, Domar, Dusadh, Baiswar, Ghasia, Hela, Kalabaj and many others have not yet benefitted from developmental politics, which is done in the name of Vanchit, Bahujan and Dalit Samaj. There are hardly any educated youth among these communities; they don’t have ‘naukri’; rarely do they have any political representation in the form of an MP or an MLA. Because of their smaller numbers, electorally, they do not matter to any political party.
Even in the run-up to elections, when promises are made by political parties to woo voters, most of these marginal communities continue to remain invisible. Some of them, however, have managed to acquire a bit of political mobility through local self-government. The Musahars, for instance, have succeeded in getting elected to the posts of pradhans, panchayat pratinidhis in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where they reside in big clusters.
I know some of them did not even have money to pay their nomination fees in the panchayat elections. They received support from social-political activists. Slowly, a political class may emerge among this community, who can in future raise voice on its behalf.
In another instance, while campaigning for a pradhan candidate, who belongs to upper/dominant caste, some local leaders have emerged among the Basor community (traditionally, basket makers) in Jalaun, Banda, Kanpur and Bundelkhand regions of Uttar Pradesh.
Sangh is Making Inroads
The Sangh is working among some of these communities, in certain zones of Uttar Pradesh, to provide them access to education and cleanliness and to support their dreams of social mobility. Some government schemes, such as the Ujjwala Yojana, the Awas Yojana and support under Right to Food, have provided them sustenance.
Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath has initiated work on various policies that can help the most marginalized communities, such as the Vantangiya who are settled in Gorakhpur region. The villages where they stay have been granted the status of revenue villages, which makes them eligible for government schemes.
The BJP’s political strategy for 2022 elections includes these non-dominant marginal communities. As a result, one can see the benefits of democracy—however little—reaching them.
These communities still lack the capacity to assert and demand their rightful share in social and political spheres. Nevertheless, a beginning has been made.
Badri Narayan is professor and director of GB Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj, and the author of ‘Republic of Hindutva’. Views expressed are personal.