Seven BJP politicians on how the party’s divisive agenda forced them to quit

BJP leaders, as well as rank-and-file, are switching allegiances, claiming the party has a communal and casteist bent. Rajendra Jadhav/Reuters
Elections 2024
30 December, 2018

In April this year, three leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, all members of marginalised communities, wrote individual letters to the prime minister, Narendra Modi, criticising the party for ignoring increasing violence against Dalits. In one of the letters, Yashwant Singh, a member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh’s Nagina district, wrote, “Being a Dalit, my capabilities have not been put to use … In 4 years the government has done nothing for the 30 crore Dalits of the country.”

The rumblings of discontent within the party are not limited to these three leaders. In the past two years, a slew of members from the BJP have resigned from their posts, accusing the party of wilfully fuelling communal and casteist strife across the country. According to them, the BJP leadership’s charged statements and silence on increasing violence against Dalits and Muslims—two communities that bear the brunt of its divisive agenda—have spurred those abandoning the party.

I spoke to seven such members, from Assam to Madhya Pradesh, including former loyalists of the party, about the reason behind their departure, their experience of working with the party and why they had joined the BJP in the first place.

1. Savitribai Phule, MP, Uttar Pradesh

On 6 December 2018, Savitribai Phule, a member of parliament from the Dalit community, became the latest in a line of departures from the BJP. Four years earlier, Phule was elected from the Lok Sabha constituency of Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh. She told me that while the prime minister claims “ki agar Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar bhi aake kahe ki bharat mein diye aaraksham ko samapt kardo, hum tab bhi samaapt nahi karenge”—that even if Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar came and asked to end reservation, we will not end reservation—the party is insidiously trying to change the Indian constitution.

Phule claimed that during her tenure, she repeatedly raised the issue of atrocities against Dalits, in the parliament. She said, “BJP ke log kayi baar mujhe rokne ki koshish kiye ki aap iss tareeke se baatein karti hai toh samaaj humse naaraaz ho jaaega”—Members of the BJP tried to stop me many times, saying that the issues I am raising will dismay the general public.

Phule said she joined the BJP in 2014 to ensure implementation of reservation in line with the constitution. She told me her constituency is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates and had there been no reservation of seats, BJP would not have given her a ticket. When asked about her future plans, she said she will follow her initial aim—to represent the interests of her community and ensure full implementation of reservation in India.

2. Kamlapat Arya, Madhya Pradesh

Kamlapat Arya, a politician from the Dalit community, left the BJP’s unit in Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal division in October this year, to join the Congress. He told me the BJP does not have a clear stance when it comes to reservations. “Aarakshan ke maamle mein jo khayi paida ho rahi hai general logon ke beech aur Dalit logon ke beech, who khaayi badhaane ka kaam BJP ne kiya hai”—The gulf that reservation has created between the general-category people and the Dalits, the BJP's work has only added to that gap. According to Arya, this chasm has led to increased atrocities against members of the Dalit community.

He said that senior leaders in the party never called him for meetings and did not involve him in the decision-making process. He said, “BJP mein jo hai anusuchit jaati aur jan jaati ko bolne ka adhikar nahi tha”— In the BJP, members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities have no right to speak.

Arya joined the party in 1996. When asked why he joined the BJP, he said, “Tab lagta tha ki Ram ko maan ne waali party hai. Tab lagta tha ki apan bhi Hindu hai iss party ko join kare aur apna raajnetik career banaye”—Then you felt that this party believes in Ram. I thought I too am Hindu, so I too should join the party and build my political career with them.

3. Raj Kumar Saini, MP, Haryana

Raj Kumar Saini, a member of parliament from Kurukshetra, belonging to a community classified as Other Backward Class, resigned from the BJP in September 2018. Saini said he decided to quit in protest against the arbitrariness of the reservation quota granted to the Jat community by the BJP-led Haryana government. He said, “Sarkar unse dab gayi. Hum nahi chahte ke jo dab gaye, unke liye hum chale. Samvidhan ke hisaab se aarakshan kiya jaaye”— Government got pressurised by them. I don’t want to work for those who surrender under pressure. Reservation should be applied as per the Constitution.

Saini forayed into politics in the late 1990s, joining former chief minister Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party. He then switched to Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal, a Haryana-based political party led by Chautala. He says that he quit from both the parties because the chief ministers who lead Haryana’s governments tend to give preferential treatment to their own communities.

After quitting the BJP, he started a party of his own, the Loktantra Suraksha. When I asked why he joined the BJP, he said, “Hume laga yeh humaare sidhanto ke anusar hai”—I felt earlier that it was in line with my principles.

4. Choudhary Mohan Lal, Punjab

In April 2018, Choudhary Mohan Lal, a leader from a Scheduled Caste community, resigned from the BJP. In 1997 and 2007—he was then a member of the Akali Dali—Lal was elected a member of the legislative assembly from Punjab’s reserved constituency of Banga. He claimed that the BJP does not allow strong leaders from marginalised communities to take the center stage, “Jagjivan Ram, Kana Singh rahe, Buta Singh rahe hai [in the cabinet]. Aap batayi BJP mein kaun hai cabinet minister jo Scheduled Caste hai inka naam duniya jaanti hai?”—Jagjivan Ram, Kana Singh and Buta Singh too were in cabinet. Can you name one cabinet minister in the BJP who is from Scheduled Caste and whose name is known by the world?

He claimed that the BJP is biased against Muslims and neglects the Sikh community because “Sikh ek hai minority commission mein who bhi RSS ki vichaar dhaaro ka”—There is only one Sikh in the minority commission but he too believes in the RSS ideology. According to him, the BJP “Brahmino ki party ban kar reh gayi hai”—it has become a party of Brahmins. Yeh log anti-scheduled caste hai anti-minority”—These people are anti-SC and anti-minority.

Lal joined the BJP in 2016, after being asked to do so by a senior in the party, Vijay Sampla, who was elected as a member of parliament from Hoshiarpur during the last general elections. He claims that he was promised a ticket in the last Punjab assembly elections from his father’s constituency, Phagwara, but the party backtracked. He has now joined the Bahujan Samaj Party.

5. Benazir Arfan, former BJP spokesperson, Assam

Benazir Arfan was the BJP’s spokesperson in Assam for five years. In September 2017, she was asked to attend a prayer meet for Rohingya Muslims who had died. She told me that after she accepted the invitation, she got a WhatsApp message from Ranjeet Kumar Das, the deputy leader of the party, saying she was suspended from the party.

Arfan said, “Muslim ko woh flower vase banake table mein sajaate hai”— They keep Muslims as a flower vase on their desks. She claims that when she was contesting the 2016 legislative assembly elections from Assam’s Jania constituency, no senior leader or MLA from the party came to campaign for her.

Arfan is now the spokesperson of the Congress’ Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. She said that she joined the BJP party in 2012 because her husband had given her a triple talaq, a controversial form of instant-divorce under Islamic law. At the time, the BJP was raising the issue and Arfan thought the party is pro-women.

6 and 7. Danish Ansari and Amaan Memon, former BJP members, Madhya Pradesh

On 24 November this year, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath delivered a speech in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore city. In response to a comment by the Congress leader Kamal Nath, he said, “Keep your Ali, Bajrang Bali is enough for us.” At least six members of the BJP’s Indore branch left the party following this. I spoke to three of them.

Danish Ansari was the vice president of Indore’s Maharana Pratap Mandal, a city-level committee. He told me, “Aise kisse aur bhi hue the par humay laga band ho jaaengi … lekin day by day aisi cheezein badti gayi”— Several things like this happened before too, we felt they would eventually stop but day by day these things have only increased.

Amaan Memon was in the BJP for ten years and was appointed Indore’s Lakshmibai Mandal’s vice-president. “Muslim samaj mein Bhajpa ki chhavi achi nahi hai… isiliye wahan hum mehnat karte hai party ke liye taaki use aage pahauncha sake”—Among Muslim society the BJP’s image is not good, so we could have worked hard to take the party forward. Referring to Adityanath’s comment, Memon said, “Aise mein kya muh leke jaaye hum apni quam ke liye?”—In this situation how can we show our faces to our community?