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Dalit rage worries Congress in Maharashtra
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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December 04, 2006 19:11 IST

Dr B R Ambedkar's 50th death anniversary on December 6 has the Congress leadership in New Delhi and Maharashtra worried.

The party is apprehensive of a caste conflict in Maharashtra if the situation is not handled with political tact.

The recent desecration of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's statue at Kanpur and the violent reaction in Maharashtra as well as the Khairlanji killings in which a Dalit woman Surekha Bhotmange,45, her daughter Priyanka, 17 were raped and then killed along with Surekha's two sons in Bhandara district have triggered angry political and social reactions in the state.

The Dalit anger may influence the January municipal corporation polls in 14 cities and 27 district council elections, says a senior Congress leader and a member of the Congress Working Committee.

The party's assessment is that in view of the elections, Opposition parties are trying to alienate Dalits and Muslims from the Congress. The anti-Congress parties are also making attempt to consolidate non-Maratha votes all over the state as happened in 1995, when the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party won with less than one-third support of voters.

The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, the head the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, are dominated by upper�caste Maratha leadership.

It is largely believed that the current Dalit fury is a result of the conflict between the Other Backward Classes and backward classes in Maharashtra. The majority of the accused arrested in rioting cases and attacks against Dalits belong to the OBCs.

According to the Congress' internal assessment the delay in arresting the perpetrators of heinous crime in Khairlanji has accentuated the anger of the Dalits against the government. The incident in Kanpur aggravated the charged atmosphere.

Olga Tellis, resident editor of the Asian Age, who has reported on the Dalit movement in Maharshtra for the last three decades, said, "Large sections of Dalits are angry that perpetrators of violence against them are not punished. For neo-Budhdhists, Ambedkar is God. Dalits got provoked when television channels repeatedly showed the desecration of Ambedkar's statue in Kanpur. On other hand this time we saw the unusual intensity in protests because the Dalit leadership wants Dalits to emerge as a political force."

The ongoing caste conflicts, particularly between OBCs and Dalits, is also fuelling emotions on both sides.

Also, many believe that Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's shaky political position and lacklustre performance has encouraged his detractors within the Congress to remain passive spectators after the Khairalanji incident.

"The Congress can't be blamed when there is competition to take up leadership of the Dalit agitation. The party high command has got reports that the lower rank leadership of Republican Party of India is involved in financing and motivating the rioters," said a senior Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha while explaining the ground realities in Maharashtra.

He added that, "The Shiv Sena and BJP get stronger when Dalits and Muslims are alienated from the Congress. After the Malegaon and Mumbai blasts, Muslims have grievances against the party because they feel the police investigations are targeting them. The police inaction in Khairlanji also cost the party heavily."

The political tension between Deshmukh and Home Minister R R Patil is another reason for aggravating of situation.

Both leaders failed to understand the enormity of the event is obvious from the fact that for first ten days after the rape and killings in Khairlanji no arrests were made.

Once the issue blew up and there were widespread protests, the Congress went into overdrive. Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, whose family was killed, was brought to New Delhi. Meetings were arranged with Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images]

He has been given a job and awarded compensation of Rs 11 lakh. When he demanded the arrest of the village sarpanch and his deputy, they were arrested. On demands of the Dalits and women activists the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Bhotmange was also given a lawyer of his choice.

But the Congress reaction was a little too late. It seems that the Congress and Deshmukh will not recover lost ground.

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