At a time when India should have been discussing winding down of decades of caste-based reservations that have largely become counter-productive, the simmering caste cauldron has erupted again. If the Hardik Patel-led agitation in Gujarat was one end of the spectrum with upper castes also wanting a share in the reservations bounty, the video of the public flogging of members of a Dalit family for skinning a dead cow in Una in Gujarat set off the biggest Dalit uprising the state has ever seen. It is not clear if chief minister Anandiben Patel was asked to step down for her inept handling of the situation or whether her successor will be able to handle things better, but the central government will also need to do its part beyond just a leadership change in the state. Just as the BJP’s top leadership was quick to expel its Uttar Pradesh state unit chief when he likened the BSP leader Mayawati to a prostitute, the party needs to take a position on the gau-rakshaks who are increasingly taking law into their own hands across various states.
Given how prime minister Narendra Modi has assiduously kept away from caste/religious issues all through his election campaign and even later, it is apparent he disapproves of this, but that may not be enough. In a country as large and fractious as India, and where the state apparatus is weak, it can be no one’s case that the government—centre or state—can take action to prevent horrible incidents such as those in Una. But if the political leadership takes quick action after the event, as it did against Dayashankar Singh, that goes a long way in assuring citizens that justice will be delivered. With the BJP’s top leadership not cracking down on the self-styled gau-rakshaks, this has encouraged those like party MLA Raja Singh to put out a video supporting the Una bashings. With the Dalit anger spilling over and threatening to become larger in the manner the Hardik Patel one did—and not just in Gujarat—the prime minister needs to squarely address this issue and send a strong message to all party workers. Perhaps his Independence Day speech will be dedicated to India attaining independence from such barbaric practices?