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Dalit stage for quiet Bangaru comeback

New Delhi, April 28: Bangaru Laxman, ejected from the BJP mainstream two years ago, made an unobtrusive comeback at the party’s national convention on Dalits held last Friday and Saturday in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh.

Not only did the former BJP chief share the dais with M. Venkaiah Naidu, who at present holds the post, but he also persuaded the convention to endorse his demand for reservation in the private sector.

Speaking from Hyderabad, Laxman told this correspondent, “In my speech, I mentioned that disinvestment has sent shock waves among Dalits because every time a PSU privatised, all the Dalits in the reservation quota lose their jobs. I suggested that the government must make it obligatory for prospective buyers to continue with the reservation policy when they sign a memorandum of understanding.”

After Laxman mooted this proposal, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti, cited former President K.R. Narayanan to stress that a debate should be initiated on creating special opportunities for Dalits and tribals in the private sector on the lines of reservation in education. Last year, Laxman had highlighted this issue in a letter to the Prime Minister but it was junked.

There was a feeling within the BJP that Laxman had been “overly punished” and that “perhaps the time has come to rehabilitate him”.

A party general secretary said: “We feel if George Fernandes (who was also mentioned in the Tehelka scam) can go about functioning normally why not Laxman'”

The other compulsion was the dearth of Dalit leaders in the BJP. It was decided at Mhow that Laxman would campaign in the four states going to elections in November. “We have a Dalit vote in these states. While we may not get them en bloc, we don’t want them to get polarised against us at the same time. We don’t want our adversaries to say that the BJP is anti-Dalit and look what it does to leaders like Laxman.”

It was Naidu who personally asked Laxman to attend the Mhow meeting and even exchanged notes on what the agenda should be. The former BJP chief also suggested that the existing laws for Dalits, like the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/STs, were unsuccessful in checking practices like untouchability and they ought to be amended because 85 per cent of the culprits were acquitted. Naidu reportedly agreed to take up this suggestion as well.

Laxman’s comeback was also in synch with the BJP’s agenda of expanding its social base among the tribals, backward castes and minorities.

He, however, denied seeing a larger role for himself in the near future. “Everything depends on the party, but Mhow may be a beginning,” said Laxman.

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