Key Dalit leaders of the Congress party gave a miss to the AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s close associate and party’s SC department chairman K. Raju’s maiden visit to Gandhi Bhavan here on Sunday.

Mr. Raju, bureaucrat-turned-politician, who is considered a key member of ‘Team Rahul’ was here to interact with the Dalit leaders and discuss ways and means of strengthening the party ahead of the general elections.

Barring Deputy Speaker Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, Rajya Sabha member Nandi Yellaiah and Government Whip Arepalli Mohan, Dalit Ministers including Deputy Chief Minister C. Damodar Raj Narasimha and other MLAs were not present.

The office-bearers of PCC SC cell and party workers thronged the party headquarters to attend his meeting.

The leaders during their interaction with him complained how they were given a raw deal despite Congress being in power for almost 10 years in the State. They said several key posts in Government run corporations were not filled up.

Mr. Raju was ostensibly here to make efforts to win back the Dalits who were drifting towards the other parties. Armed with over three decades of experience in the bureaucracy and being in the thick of action of some of the key welfare schemes that were launched in Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Raju is now on a new mission with four-pronged strategy to ensure a pride of place for Dalits.

At a press conference here in the party office, Mr. Raju flanked by the PCC president Botcha Satyanarayana spelt out the action plan.

The strategies include identifying SC leaders and developing their capabilities, making the voice of Dalits strong and visible in the party and turn the party’s SC department a Policy Advocacy Body.

“The task entrusted by Mr. Gandhi to me is to see that more and more Dalit voices are heard in the party.

They should get their desired recognition and the PCC meetings should have a protocol where Dalit issues are freely discussed. We also want the SC department to identify at least three or four active cadres in each village to take forward party programmes,” he said.

Mr. Raju said the mission of the SC department is not only to win a majority of the 84 parliamentary constituencies reserved for them but to bring back Dalits to the party with the UPA Government’s pro-poor welfare programmes.