Eleven dalit leaders from Kerala have resigned from the Welfare Party of India alleging untouchability inside the party. “The Welfare Party always projected its’ politics as a fight for social justice for the oppressed identities, but at the same time the dalit leaders in the party are not allowed to speak about their identity inside the organisation. This is the system prevailing in the party, it is anti democratic,” Pradeep Nemmara, one of the dalit activists who resigned from the party, told NewsClick.
After the 2018 Chengannur Assembly by-elections, two dalit members of the party were suspended for four months for supporting Saji Cheriyan, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate who went to win the election, a regional online portal Dool News reported. Following this, a number of party members had expressed their dissent to the state leadership and a protest letter signed by 23 dalit members was submitted to the Kerala state president of the party. “The response to the letter came in the form of a show cause notice threatening suspension,” Pradeep said.
"We did not go public straight away and had democratically approached the state leadership first to look into the matter. Their response was brutal and highly discriminatory. If not for speaking out issues concerning oppressed identities, then why was the party ever formed?," asks Pradeep.
His frustration with the showcause notice only grew further as the party went on and ordered him stop contacts with the ten dalit members including his own brother who had resigned days before him. Pradeep said he was left with no alternative but to resign in the face of such shocking acts of casteist discrimination within a party that seeks social 'justice'.
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Hameed Vaaniyambalam, the state president of Welfare Party told regional media in a statement, “Welfare Party is a secular democratic party, and the state committee suspended them because they tried to create sectarianism inside the party. Certain marginalised sections are believing that no one other than someone from their community can liberate them from oppression. This is the problem of identity politics.”
The party in Kerala supported the Congress-led UDF in the recently held Lok Sabha elections.
Pradeep was apparently accused of creating dalit sectarianism within the party by mobilising its dalit members according to the state leadership. “I asked the party, if the protest letter was given by the Muslim members of the party, then will the state committee consider it as Muslim sectarianism?,” he asked.
The Welfare Party of India, which was formed in 2011, proclaimed itself as the "voice of the voiceless", with working committee members from Muslim community and other communities. The Muslim outfit Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is the parent organisation of the party. "We are forming a political outfit namely Welfare Party. Though Jamaat is launching the party, the outfit will be an independent body," Jamaat's convenor S Q R Ilyas was quoted in Outlook in 2011.
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However, some experts had argued in 2011 that, the main reason that led to the creation of a political party by Jamaat-e-islami Hind is, that they feared a ban on the organisation. At the time, its earlier students’ wing Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had been banned for five years. So, the Jamaat believed a political party would be an insurance against such a ban, as per a report by India Today.
The working of the Welfare Party is mainly related with their intervention in social issues related to marginalised sections. Maidul Islam in his thesis, Limits of Islamism: Ideological Articulations of Jamaat-e-Islami in Contemporary India and Bangladesh, argues that "it is interesting to note that the rhetoric of JIH uses the victimhood of the ‘people’ in general under a neoliberal Policy regime and not simply arguing in terms of ‘Muslim victimhood’."
Welfare Party and the student organisation of Jamaat-e-Islami - Students’ Islamic Organisation have got support from liberals as they were involved in raising issues related to marginalised sections. Pradeep said, "Welfare Party is publicly speaking about the politics of Rohith Vemula. It is also speaking for social justice for Rohith but the party members belonging to the community of Rohith are not allowed to speak about their identity inside the party."
“I predict more leaders from the party’s state committee itself will resign in the coming days,” he added.
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