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Mayawati threatens to embrace Buddhism. But empty rhetoric won't help the BSP anymore

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 26 October 2017, 16:17 IST

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati Tuesday said she might embrace Buddhism. But her 'threat' hasn't impressed many. In fact, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader even called it “mere posturing”.

The former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh recalled how Bhimrao Ambedkar had given Shankaracharyas and “thekedars of Hinduism” 21 years to end the evil practice of discrimination on caste lines, but when there was no change in the system he became a Buddhist in 1956.

Mayawati challenged the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to change their casteist thinking against Dalits, tribals, backwards, converted people and their leaders failing which – “I will also be forced to leave Hindu religion and embrace Buddhism along with crores of people," she said at a rall in Azamgarh.

Mayawati’s remarks against the Brahminical ‘varna vyavastha' (caste system), were aimed more at protecting her Dalit, backward and Muslim vote bank rather than a serious threat of conversion. And this is because the BJP has done more than the BSP chief to reach out to Dalits via a section of Buddhists.

In an interview given to a Delhi-based newspaper, veteran Dalit leader from Maharashtra and a Union minister Ramdas Bandu Athawale, a Buddhist, asked –

“Why is Mayawati not a Buddhist yet if she claims to be a true Ambedkarite? She keeps criticising Manuvaad, talks about conversions but has not accepted Buddhism. She announced her conversion many times but remains a Hindu…”

Mayawati’s threat comes too late in the day as her conversion now may not have the effect she would expect it to have.

In 2016, the BJP reached out to the Dalits with the help of some 40 monks. The party’s Dhamma Chetna Yatra, which began in April, garlanded or inaugurated about 800 statues of Babasaheb Ambedkar in three months. It was described by many as the BJP’s “biggest Dalit outreach programme” to control the damage caused by violence against Dalits in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

The objective of the Yatra, led by All-India Bhikshu Sangh under BJP’s guidance, was to spread the message of Buddha and Ambedkar across Uttar Pradesh. And if the state Assembly election results are to be taken as a yardstick, the BSP was decidedly out-manoeuvred by the BJP as Mayawati allowed monks to be led away by leaders of the saffron outfits.

In the recent Presidential elections, by fielding Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit-turned-Buddhist, the BJP further took the wind out of the BSP’s sails as it continued to keep its sights trained on the Dalits.

Barring occasional remarks, like the ones made in Azamgarh on Tuesday, Mayawati has been rather muffled in her criticism of the BJP-RSS combine. Although she was blaming the BJP of atrocities against Dalits, backward classes and manuvaad now, she has thrice formed the government in UP with the help of BJP.

In what was clearly a tirade against the upper castes, Mayawati said in Azamgarh that Dalits, who were like “helpless slaves” of the caste system, have to thank their messiah Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar and any Hindu god or goddess for their legal rights to education, farming, employment and politics.

Mayawati who dumped her 'bahujan hitaay' slogan for 'sarvjan hitaay' after she made Satish Mishra her party’s Brahmin face, was repositioning herself by adopting an aggressive anti-upper caste stance to cast her net wide for Dalits, backward classes and Muslim votes.

She said at Azamgarh that the “gimmickry” of puja at Ayodhya, Chitrakoot, Mathura and any other place was not going to help the BJP anymore. To attract Hindus, the BJP may start the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and bring back Dawood Ibrahim, she added.

Whether BJP succeeds in attracting Dalit votes or not is not significant. What remains to be seen is if “a Hindu” Mayawati’s posturing will cut any ice with the Dalits, other than the Chamars, as her becoming a Buddhist seems unlikely.

First published: 26 October 2017, 16:17 IST