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Una has activated Congress, but even that might not save it in Gujarat

Rathin Das | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent outburst - that a majority of the self-styled cow vigilantes are anti-social elements - is a clear sign that repercussions of the viral video of the Dalits in Una being flogged on 11 July have really shaken the ruling BJP in Gujarat as well as at the Centre.

But more than the BJP, the snowballing reaction to the incident has actually shaken the state Congress out of their two-decade-long slumber.

Kept out of reckoning even by the spontaneous movement that erupted in the wake of the Dalits' flogging, the state Congress has now taken a delegation to the President to submit a petition seeking his intervention.

To add to the Congress' humiliation, the ruling BJP's cyber army has now launched a social media campaign ridiculing the party's move to approach the President for this 'local' issue.

True, the Congressmen have suddenly been re-activated by the Una episode, but it is too early to predict whether the ordeal of the Dalits would finally help the party come out of the wilderness in Gujarat.

Missing out

The Gujarat Congress practically failed to cash in on the Dalit atrocity issue, the same way it missed out on last year's Patels' agitation demanding quota in government jobs and higher educational institutions.

Even the slightest move from the Congress to appropriate the Patels' cause was met with resistance from the community which has maintained a three-decade-long bond with the ruling BJP.

Whatever 'anti-BJP' vote is perceived to have emerged in Gujarat due to the Patels' growing antagonism towards their beloved party of three decades did not necessarily gravitate to the Congress.

The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the election arena has really queered the pitch for the Congress as tripartite contests will only benefit the BJP in the ultimate.

Though Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's much-publicised visit to the tormented family in Mota Samadhiyala village of Una generated huge media hype, the main Opposition party in Gujarat could not reap any political advantage from it because they do not have any Dalit figure who can be projected as the saviour of the oppressed.

In the absence of an acceptable Dalit face from among the Congress leaders, the vacant space was quickly seized by the spontaneous emergence of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti under the leadership of little-known 35-year-old activist - Jignesh Mevani.

Can't be a nobody now can they?

Congress' bankruptcy on the Dalit issue was revealed as the party had to satisfy itself by providing food packets and night shelters to the people who went on the ten-day, 350 kilometre march to Una after their 'Mahasammelan' in Ahmedabad on 31 July. Basically a 'social' job that could have been managed by villagers or any voluntary organisations supporting the Dalit cause.

The more-than-a-century-old party was even denied entry among the marchers by organisers of the just-formed protest committee unless they joined in their individual capacity - without the usual Congress flags, festoons and tricolour scarves around the necks.

Being used to travel in air-conditioned cars and SUVs, no Congress leader was interested in undertaking the 'incognito' trek to Una, rubbing shoulders with Dalits and generally left-of-center activists.

But, despite the rebuff faced by the Congress en route to Una, some of their Dalit leaders did reach the venue of the flag hoisting on Independence Day.

According to sources among the marchers, at least one Congress leader tried to forcibly climb the dais and wanted to address the gathering assembled to protest the beating up of Dalits of Mota Samadhiayala village.

The virtual exclusion from the movement sparked off by the Una incident actually deprived the Congress of any opportunity to derive political mileage that could help them take on the BJP in the assembly elections scheduled next year.

Forever the Opposition?

Out of power in Gujarat since 1995, the state Congress had almost resigned to its fate of sitting on the Opposition benches forever, especially since Narendra Modi led the BJP to victory thrice in successive assembly elections of 2002, 2007 and 2012.

Moreover, with the 'Modi wave' spreading nationwide in 2014, the Gujarat Congress had almost lost all hopes of returning to power in the state.

But the national outrage generated over the Una atrocity issue has come as a flicker of hope for the Gujarat unit of the Congress.

However, it is not necessary that the flicker of hope will transform into victory for the Congress in the elections of 2017. The party has to cross several hurdles like defections, factionalism, tussles over tickets distribution and finally outright 'purchase' of candidates just three days prior to the polling before it can think of a win.

There can be many a slip between the proverbial cup and the lip and the Congress can be left licking its wounds once again.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Una thrashing: Cow was killed by lion, not Dalits beaten by gau rakshaks

Also read: Una effect: Dalit rage forces Modi to take Gau Rakshaks by their horns

Also read: Political awakening: Una may just change the lack of Dalit leadership in Gujarat

Also read: Una Dalit march: Meet the men taking on Gujarat's Hindutva brigade

Also read: Trolling the BJP: Gujarat's Dalits take to social media after Una incident

Also read: Dalits hoist flag at Una, but their battle for freedom has just begun

First published: 23 August 2016, 7:50 IST