On April 24, Udit Raj, a Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party quit the party and joined the Congress. Raj made his decision after the BJP decided not to field him as their candidate from North West Delhi, a reserved seat that he had won in 2014.
The last date for candidates from the national capital to file their nominations for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections was April 23, which is when the BJP announced that it was fielding singer Hans Raj Hans from the North West Delhi constituency.
Delhi votes on May 12.
In an interview to Scroll.in on Wednesday, Raj said that he felt “100% betrayed” by the BJP’s decision and called the BJP “anti-Dalit”. He also said that the ruling party had “finished Dalits” during their five-year tenure at the Centre.
Raj is the chairman of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Organisations.
Prior to joining the BJP, Raj was a vocal opponent of the saffron party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In 2002, in an article in Outlook magazine, he questioned why the “Sangh Parivar” was against conversions of Dalits from Hinduism. He wrote: “Why is the Sangh Parivar so afraid of conversion? What is conversion other than a change of ideas, attitudes, and a mindset? It is nothing but the freedom to change your opinion, your belief. And I thought the Constitution guarantees you such freedom of opinion under the chapter of fundamental rights. If you are so afraid of conversion, make Hinduism caste free, get rid of the age-old varna hierarchy and conversion will automatically stop.”
He joined the BJP in 2014. While in the BJP, Raj has been critical of the party’s actions.
In July, in an interview to The Print he said that Dalit ministers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet were “parasites”.
Raj has also criticised the Supreme Court’s dilution of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act in March 2018 , and claimed that he had asked the Centre to act against the verdict. In April last year, he alleged that Dalits were tortured after the April 2 Bharat bandh, which was called by Dalit organisations to protest against the Supreme Court order.
Raj hit the headlines on April 23 when he said on Twitter that he was waiting for his party to finalise his candidature from his constituency. “I am waiting for a ticket if not given to me I will do good bye to party,” he had said.
Edited excerpts of his interview with Scroll.in follow:
Now that you’ve joined Congress, what are your plans? Are you hoping to contest elections?
My plan is to campaign for the Congress to increase some of their seats and reduce some seats of BJP all over India.
What do you think about the Congress? Are there enough Dalit representatives in senior roles in the Congress? Is there more space for dissent? Are you confident you will not be treated the same way by the Congress? How do you think Congress addresses issues when it comes to atrocities on Dalits?
[Congress is] much better than BJP….I have been struggling for women and Dalits and as compared to BJP, they [Congress] are much better. Inside the party, I’ll go and raise the issue and see things are improving...of course whatever has been done for Dalits so far is because of Congress only.
How do you think the denial of a ticket to you reflects on the BJP?
See, they prefer to lose one seat rather than to give a ticket to a person who speaks [up].
Was there a sense of betrayal?
One hundred per cent. And they talk about Dalit! Dalit! Dalit! But they are anti-Dalit.
What was communicated to you by the party?
They have not communicated…They did not consider me worth even as a gardener of a home or, you can say, that of a cook who has some freedom...They did not even communicate what they are going to do with me.
How would you sum up your five years with the BJP?
I have always been restless and discontented and many times I have raised issues in Parliament in the presence of the prime minister because I am a person who believes in freedom of choice. They [BJP] are so sectarian they want a stereotype of ideology to which everybody should adhere to, and [want everybody to] jump for their sloganeering. Nobody can have individuality and freedom there.
How would you sum up BJP’s five year rule for the Dalit community?
They have finished Dalits.
On April 23, you removed the “Chowkidar” prefix from your Twitter handle but it reappeared a few minutes later. What happened? Also, what do you think about Modi and other BJP leaders using the term “Chowkidar”?
When I was in the party, I followed party rules. I have already issued a press release on this, please read that.
How were your comments on the Bharat bandh and the Supreme Court’s ruling perceived by the party?
I was the one who monitored who were harassed, arrested and where false cases were lodged. They [BJP] were very unhappy.
How do you look back at your decision to join the BJP in 2014?
I wanted to go to the Parliament as a platform. I went there and I voiced [my issues] and now I will do the same role here [Congress] by campaigning.
You have always voiced your support for religious conversions of Dalits while the BJP and RSS have always been against it. How did you justify this as you joined BJP in 2014?
They want that Dalits should remain enslaved. They want the caste system to be intact. They [BJP and RSS] should improve their own religion rather than being afraid of Christianity and Islam. That means there is something seriously wrong and people are leaving Hinduism because of discrimination, isolation and curtailment of freedom of choice of lower castes. That is why they are walking toward other religions.
It was a platform for me and I used that platform.
Why did you call Dalit ministers in Modi’s Cabinet parasites?
Parasite means that they want to fill up their belly. They are selfish and they will not articulate the interests of the community to which they belong.