Pushed on the back foot by the Congress Party's bid to regain its Dalit support base in Uttar Pradesh with the launch of the "Congress yatra 2010" from Ambedkar Nagar on April 14, the birth anniversary of Bhimrao Ambedkar, a tense ruling Bahujan Samaj Party is now trying to "expose" its political adversary's concern for Dalits.
As the Congress yatra is set to be flagged off by the party general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, battle lines have been drawn between the two with Dr. Ambedkar and Ambedkar Nagar (Akbarpur) emerging as symbols of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati's efforts to consolidate her Dalit vote bank and the Congress' bid to woo them. Apart from celebrating Dr. Ambedkar's birth anniversary, the BSP would stage a State-wide dharna and demonstration on April 14 against the Women's Reservation Bill.
On Saturday, the ruling party officially released three posters of the BSP and the Congress related to April 14. While the BSP poster carries Ms. Mayawati's picture and that of the Dalit icons, including Dr. Ambedkar, Mr. Gandhi's portrait dominates the space in the Congress poster with lesser space given to Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. This Congress poster, however, does not carry the pictures of Dr. Ambedkar, or any other Dalit leader.
Describing the Congress as ‘anti-Dalit,’ he State unit president of BSP, Swami Prasad Maurya said here on Saturday that the Congress was responsible for the extreme poverty and deprivation amongst the Dalits. Referring to the Congress poster, Mr. Maurya slammed the party for ignoring Dr. Ambedkar. "It only shows that there has been no change in the Congress Party's attitude towards Dr. Ambedkar", the UP BSP chief said.
On the new Congress poster, Mr. Maurya said it was attempt to gloss over its mistake and was an insult to Dr. Ambedkar. He said Dr. Ambedkar had advised his supporters to stay away from the Congress.
In fact, the absence of Dr. Ambedkar's picture in the Congress poster, which was put up in Ambedkar Nagar, was made an issue by the local unit of BSP last week in a bid to expose the Congress' "Dalit-prem" ( love for Dalits). The posters were hastily withdrawn by the Congress. The new posters and hoardings now installed in Ambedkar Nagar and at the UP Congress headquarters in Lucknow show Dr. Ambedkar and former Defence Minister and once the Dalit face of the Congress, Jagjivan Ram, along with those of Mr. Gandhi and other party leaders.
When contacted the Congress yatra in charge and Faizabad MP, Nirmal Khatri, said that the posters sans Dr. Ambedkar were put up by some enthusiastic party supporters. " The Congress has great respect for Dr. Ambedkar and other Dalit leaders", Mr. Khatri told The Hindu from Ambedkar Nagar.
Ten Congress yatras would be flagged off by the Amethi MP from Ambedkar Nagar on April 14 where Mr. Gandhi will also address a public meeting at the ground next to the airstrip. "The 10 yatras, which would be coordinated by senior leaders, including MPs, will touch all the 430 Assembly segments in the 18 divisions of Uttar Pradesh", said the UP Congress spokesman, Dwijendra Tripathi.
The first phase of the yatra would end on May 31, 2010. The second phase of the Congress campaign is tentatively scheduled to commence on September 15 and end on November 10 in Allahabad with Ms.Gandhi scheduled to address the concluding function.