(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains
Polity, Governance and Social Justice: Dalit empowerment
through consensus not conflict, dialogue not dominance
The makers of our Constitution were men and women of great vision and
foresight. A subaltern leader who voiced the concerns of the depressed classes
chaired the drafting committee of the Constitution: Babasaheb Ambedkar stood for
the empowerment of the socially and politically deprived segment of the society.
His vision drives the battle for Dalit dignity today.
Untouchability is still rampant in different forms. My years in politics — I
started in the student wing of a naxalite organisation and have been with the
BJP for the past three decades — have convinced me that the panacea for social
ills lie in dialogue, discussion and debate. As a politician and a teacher, I
have tried to engage with the stakeholders of the Dalit discourse, even at the
cost of facing barbs from friends and foes.
In this context, I want to speak about a recent incident in Lucknow, where I
was invited to speak at the “Diversity” day celebration. The organiser, H.L.
Dusadh, has been working tirelessly to advance the cause of Dalit representation
in key sectors through his writings and literary interventions in the past two
decades. His idea of “diversity” is inspired by the US model of affirmative
action and protective discrimination for ensuring justice and equality in public
spheres. “Diversity” in the Indian context is social diversity. This means
women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are adequately represented in
Guests, speakers and delegates from across the ideological spectrum had been
invited to the event. Former governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Mata Prasad, Ashok
Bharti of the Republican Party of India, Radhika Vemula, mother of the late
Rohith Vemula, Jignesh Mevani from Ahmedabad and I were to speak at the event.
Invitations were circulated and the event gained traction on social media. Then,
to my surprise, I was told that Mevani and Radhika Vemula backed out because of
my presence. I was taken aback. Soon after the unfortunate death of Rohith
Vemula, I had expressed my angst on twitter at the cost of antagonising my
party. I had also met Radhika Vemula at a press conference in New Delhi.
To label us khaki-nikkerwala and disengage with us is antithetical to the
larger Dalit cause. Evading debate indicates lack of faith and confidence in
one’s ideology. Is this a devious attempt to keep out other views and thereby
demoralise the BJP and the BSP? If so, how feasible is it? Why should it not be
denounced as an exclusionary approach impervious to core democratic values such
as dissent, free speech and constructive engagement between contrasting
The Congress-Left-Socialist nexus ruled the nation for six decades and robbed
the Dalit community of opportunities. The Congress, which perpetuated the
interests of one family, commoditised the Dalits and saw them as a “vote bank”.
The new Dalit aspiration transcends petty politics; we want to be perceived as a
The current prime minister comes from a humble background. He is aware of the
pain, agony, challenges, deprivations and everyday threat a socially
disadvantaged person faces in the rural set-up. Under his leadership, Parliament
discussed the life and works of Ambedkar. The Jan Dhan Yojana has ended
financial untouchability to a large extent. The BJP currently has the highest
number of Dalit parliamentarians.
The next stage of Dalit empowerment will encompass representation, which
would be made possible through integration and not confrontation. Any strategy
of Dalit empowerment could emerge through consensus and not conflict, through
dialogue and not dominance. The present need is to depoliticise the Dalit
discourse and strive towards an independent, objective, dispassionate and
solution-centric Dalit narrative.
What isn’t sedition
In a wonderfully minimalist case of dental surgery, the Supreme Court has
defanged governments and administrations which have been wielding Section 124A
of the Indian Penal Code to throttle speech and cow down vocal critics. It has
done this simply by refusing to lay down the law — reminding everyone that it
was laid down a generation ago, in 1962. It has clarified that mere criticism of
the government does not constitute sedition and that, in fact, it should not
even attract a defamation charge. This observation should act as a restraining
order on governments — particularly the Central government — which have been
using the colonial curb of the sedition law as a blunt instrument to bludgeon
critics with. The principle invoked was articulated in the landmark case of
Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar, in which the apex court had upheld the
constitutional validity of Section 124A, but had disabused the government of the
politically convenient notion that the draconian law could be applied to words,
deeds or actions “intended to or… likely to incite public disorder” or violence.
The court had insisted on the centrality of intention, since likelihood is a
subjective notion which could invite unconstitutional behaviour from the
authorities. Which is precisely what has been seen in recent months — unseemly
campaigns to restrain those perceived to be political embarrassments like Hardik
Patel and Kanhaiya Kumar, apart from sundry writers, performers, cartoonists.
Now, in a public interest litigation filed by Common Cause, the Supreme Court
has recalled the necessity to establish intention. The NGO had argued that
ignorance of the law is causing the police to arbitrarily arrest critics of
government, and had pleaded for guidelines requiring the clearance of a senior
police official before Section 124A could be imposed. The court has declined to
intervene in sedition cases past and future, and only required officers of the
law to follow the principle of the ruling set down in 1962. Following a basic
tenet of criminal jurisprudence, it has elaborated that the merit of a sedition
charge must be appraised from case to case.
The law of sedition was designed by a colonial power to prevent fractious
citizens from overthrowing it by force. In the way it is used, it is
anachronistic in a democracy where governments rule at the pleasure of the
people, who are entitled to democratic protest and public criticism to force
governments to acknowledge their concerns and opinions. To wilfully misrepresent
protest as sedition is an egregious error on the part of government. It has been
happening far too often and reflects an ugly paradox — democratically elected
governments find democratic protest intolerable.