Fight for the Dalit vote hots up in Uttar Pradesh

With Mayawati expected to reveal her cards after the election notification and Samajwadi Party, Congress raking up cases of atrocities against Dalits, the BJP is firming up its Dalit outreach

March 09, 2024 01:18 am | Updated 10:49 am IST - Ghaziabad

BJP national president J.P. Nadda lighting a ceremonial lamp during the Dalit Mahasammelan organised by the BJP in Agra on Thursday.

BJP national president J.P. Nadda lighting a ceremonial lamp during the Dalit Mahasammelan organised by the BJP in Agra on Thursday. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s latest bid to reach out to Dalits in Uttar Pradesh comes at a time when the State is simmering with Dalit anger over the death of a Jatav teenager in police firing in Milak area of Rampur district. On Thursday, as the State reeled under the news of the father of one of the victims of the Hamirpur gang rape case allegedly ending his life, BJP national president J.P. Nadda addressed the party’s Dalit Mahasammelan in Agra, the Dalit capital of Uttar Pradesh, with Dalit Ministers in the Union and State Cabinets on the stage.

While Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held similar meetings across the State in October 2023, the latest deliberation in Uttar Pradesh assumes greater significance coming just ahead of the Lok Sabha election.

In 2019, the BJP won 15 of the 17 reserved seats in the State, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. The other two went to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

However, recent events suggest that the fight for 21.1% of the Dalit share of the total vote is very much on. The Scheduled Caste vote is broadly divided into Jatavs (11.7%), Pasis (3.3%), Valmikis (3.15%), Gonds, Dhanuks and Khatiks (1.2%), and others (1.6%).

While the BJP is sure of wresting the rest, it is keen on reducing the BSP’s vote share to single digits. The party secured around 19% of votes in 2019 and around 13% in the 2022 Assembly poll. BJP sources say it won’t be easy, especially after the Milak episode. They say the voting pattern of Valmikis remained largely unaffected after the Hathras episode — the gang rape and assault of a Dalit woman in Hathras leading to her death and forcible cremation — of 2020, but Jatav fury is a lot more difficult to handle. With the possibility of Mayawati revealing her cards only after the notification of the Lok Sabha poll and the Azad Samaj Party (ASP) making its presence felt in some pockets of western Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is eager to plug the holes in its Dalit-MBC (most backward classes) outreach.

It started with the recent Cabinet expansion in which out of the four new Ministers who took oath, two belonged to the most backward category and one was a Jatav, the primary vote bank of the BSP. The move was aimed at taking the wind out of the Samajwadi Party’s PDA — picchde (backward classes or OBCs), Dalits and alpsankhyak (minorities) — plank. It also sought to quell the growing apprehension over privatisation of government jobs and demand for caste census, which is finding traction on the ground after the principal Opposition party in the State arrived at a seat-sharing formula with the Congress, the original go-to party for Dalits before the regional parties gained ground in the State.

Also Read | BJP eyes deeper inroads among Dalits, women in U.P. through outreach conferences

The downside of bestowing the Bharat Ratna to Karpoori Thakur and Chaudhary Charan Singh is that it has given impetus to the demand of conferring it on the BSP founder Kanshi Ram as well.

In Agra, Mr. Nadda had to underscore that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was conferred with the highest civilian honour when the BJP was supporting the National Front government. He also underlined how the dilution of Article 370 has paved the way for SC/ST reservation in Jammu & Kashmir.

‘Jatavs don’t seek doles’

However, Dalit activists say in U.P., Dalits, particularly Jatavs, don’t seek doles. They also point out how statues and portraits of Ambedkar are being defiled during the BJP rule. It is a State where a Dalit party has been in power four times and Mayawati has the distinction of being the first Chief Minister of the State to have completed a full term. The BJP takes the credit for paving the way for Ms. Mayawati’s rise by aligning with the BSP in its nascent years, but it is also the party that described her as ‘Dalit nahi, daulat ki beti hai’ (not a Dalit’s daughter, but of wealth) after the fallout, and is now reducing the Dalits to ‘labharti’ (beneficiary of State schemes). In the Assembly election and bypolls, Dalit support for the SP has increased. However, in the Yadav belt, they still see the OBCs as a bigger threat than the upper castes.

Dalits close to the BJP remind how SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed reservation in promotion, but sought Muslim quota in jobs. Also, after the Rajya Sabha polls, the BJP supporters are bragging about how SP legislator Pooja Pal, wife of former BSP MLA Raju Pal, who was allegedly gunned down by dreaded gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed, voted in favour of BJP candidate because Ms. Pal got “divine justice” during the BJP rule.

The ASP, which is active in the Moradabad-Saharanpur division, is expected to take political mileage out of the Milak episode after the bonhomie between the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the ASP that was seen during the Khatauli bypoll was cut short when Chaudhary Jayant Singh drifted towards the National Democratic Alliance. 

Also Read | Social alliance of Backward Classes, Dalits and minorities will defeat BJP in U.P., says Akhilesh

Meanwhile, the Congress is seeking its revival in the Dalit conscience as it has a Dalit president. But when Mallikarjun Kharge took over as the party president, it also quickly changed Brijlal Khabri as the State president and opted for a Bhumihar, Ajay Rai. For now, it is raking up the Hamirpur episode on social media, but it is time to hit the ground running.

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