BJP MP Udit Raj is desperately trying to get rid of his past. But Mahishasur continues to haunt him.
Amidst the entire JNU crackdown and consequent protests, word had gotten out of Udit Raj's 2013 tryst with Mahishasur Martyrdom Day at a JNU program. When HRD Minister Smriti Irani referred to those celebrations in her parliament speech, Udit Raj's past was once again in the spotlight.
When questioned by the media, Udit Raj confirmed his presence at the said JNU function, but declined to repeat the contents of the speech he delivered there. At that function, speakers deliberated upon Hindu mythology and Bahujan culture. Udit Raj too put forward a critical analysis of Hindu mythology and Hindutva.
It was at the footsteps of Dr Ambedkar, that he decided to change his religion after criticising Hinduism. He adopted Buddhism and changed his name from Ram Raj to Udit Raj.
As Ram Raj, he was quite active in socio- political activities. It turned out that in order to acquire leadership in Dalit politics, denouncing Hinduism was mandatory. Like Kanshi Ram, Udit Raj first made an association of Dalit- Adivasi officials and employees after resigning from the Income Tax Department. He then adopted Buddhism and later formed his Justice Party.
Udit Raj, after resigning from the service, formed an association of officers and also brought out a newspaper called Voice of Buddha. In photographs from that era, he is captured with leaders of different ideology and colour. Most of his photos from then are with Congress ministers, Left and Socialist leaders.
His political activities are already recorded in public memory in the form of speeches, documents and photographs. When a government official decides to plunge into politics, the signs are pretty obvious.
But none of this helped achieve his dream of a seat in parliament. He conceded in an interview that the leadership should change its approach when the question of survival erupts.
Since becoming a member of parliament in 2014, from a constituency in Delhi on a BJP ticket, Udit Raj avoids talking about incidents of atrocities against Dalits, which have questioned Hindutva and Brahminical hegemony.
He says that it is wise to escape for a bigger cause. It is this 'wise' project that makes him eager to remove all documents and memories from public domain, which are full of his criticism and condemnation of Hindutva ideology and hegemony.
A new set of leaders are now found in his photographs after his decision to join the BJP. All of a sudden, straight from Nagpur Nitin Gadkari is more visible in his programmes and functions. There were talks in the political circle that he was desperate to erase the captions of his old photographs. His website is full of photographs, but the captions on them are suddenly absent. It's really funny that Udit Raj is trying so hard to hide his past at any cost.
One can see a saffron flag flying with his photograph on the website. But the most surprising fact is that in his introduction he describes himself as a member of a Dalit Hindu family from Uttar Pradesh! One can't control one's own birth, but it totally depends on him how he treats his identity.
He freely shares all information, including his birth, but forgets to mention his adoption of Buddhism. But this isn't the only website with writings about him. However, his introduction varies from one site to the next, depending on the site's allegiance.
On one website, he doesn't talk about his Dalit identity. But on Wikipedia, he identifies himself as a member of the Khatik caste which happens to belong to the Dalit community. While talking about his activism, Udit Raj proudly projects the fact, that in the tradition of BR Ambedkar, he converted to Buddhism in November 2001, along with thousands of followers.
While writing his introduction, he follows the footsteps of those leaders who try to get a hold within their own caste first, and then attempt to build a vote bank to serve their political ambitions.
Dalit is nothing but a combined group of Scheduled Castes. In parliamentary democracy, a group has symbolic importance only and castes are more valuable. There is a large population of Khatiks in Uttar Pradesh. They may be socially and economically weak but are militant in their approach.
Moreover, the BJP works on a policy of bringing those few castes into its fold, which have already grabbed the leadership of Dalit politics. Mayawati commands impeccable clout among Jatavs and it is understood that nothing can lure them to another party. By giving representation to a few, the BJP has been successful in attaching certain castes of Dalit community, with its core base of forward castes.
The way his online presence has been managed, it seems to indicate that by brushing his past under the carpet, he is trying to earn a place for himself within Hindutva and its party. He even owes allegiance to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for his achievements. He apparently decided to jump onto the BJP wagon very early in October 2013, and changed his tune according to it. Prior to this political somersault, Udit Raj used to speak a different language on secularism. But very soon the idea of pseudo-secularism became his official stand.
The old issues covered in Voice of Buddha are no longer available. But the readers of that fortnightly paper, which was registered with RNI in 1998, say that the newspaper was highly critical of Hindutva and the BJP. There were articles in it that covered Mahishasur in detail. But its issues from 2013 and earlier years are not available on websites. The Facebook page of the newspaper, which was created on 13 February 2013, is empty. The new photographs of Udit Raj consist of birthday celebrations, not the struggles for a public cause.
Udit Raj's alibi for joining the saffron party, revolves around the hope that adequate share of power will be given to Dalits in this regime. But it will be highly ridiculous if such a share is distributed to an individual of a particular caste, as a representative of all Dalits.
Moreover, Dalit politics has various dimensions and they are interlinked. For example, we know his current stand on Dalit atrocities, the Rohit Vemula case and JNU controversy. Given that, will he still be able to raise his voice for those Dalits who have adopted Islam and Christianity? Earlier, he supported reservations for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. But the BJP is opposed to any such demand.
So to really assimilate with Hindutva- based saffron politics, Udit Raj needs to take a number of holy dips in the Ganges. Only then the BJP, which used to suspect his ideology as a 'sin', may declare him 'pure'.
(The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.)
Edited by Anna Verghese
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