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Bypolls: Congress, BJP scramble for crucial Dalit vote in Gwalior-Chambal region

Logo of the Election Commission of India. File

Logo of the Election Commission of India. File   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Rivals trade barbs over choice of candidates for Rajya Sabha seats.

Both the Congress and the BJP are hoping to get the Dalit vote in the Gwalior-Chambal division where six of the 16 Assembly seats due for byelections are reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC).

Friday’s Rajya Sabha election to three seats — two went to the BJP owing to its Assembly strength — became a flashpoint, with both the parties trading barbs. The BJP accused the Congress of ignoring backward communities by relegating Phool Singh Baraiya, an SC candidate, to the second preference. Whereas, the Congress rubbished the charge and asserted the leader was in fact slated for a bigger role in the byelection.

“Not just regionally but socially also it speaks of Congress’ preferences. A former Chief Minister is preferred to a party worker from the marginal sections of society,” Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, BJP vice-president and in-charge for Madhya Pradesh, told The Hindu.

“The preference symbolises Congress’ policy of garib hatao (weed out the poor) and not garibi hatao (weed out poverty).”

Byelections to 22 of the 24 seats (two vacant owing to deaths) have become necessary after former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia switched over to the BJP along with Congress MLAs, precipitating the fall of the Congress government. The BJP fielded Mr. Scindia and Sumer Singh Solanki, a tribal face, in the Rajya Sabha election rescheduled from March 26 owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Regional role

The Congress, left with reduced numbers, chose former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh as its preferred nominee. “We nominated Mr. Baraiya when the party was sure of bagging two seats. So, there is no question of ignoring anyone,” said Jitu Patwari, working president, State Congress.

“The BJP toppled our government through a conspiracy, and voters will teach them a lesson in the byelection,” he added.

A Congress source said Mr. Baraiya, formerly Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) State president who switched over ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha election, would bolster Congress’s prospects in Gwalior-Chambal in securing the Dalit vote.

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“He is likely to be fielded as a candidate from Bhander in Datia which he won on a BSP ticket in 1998 as the party’s face in the region,” the source said.

The BJP would go into contest riding on the plank of Congress “ignoring backward communities”, said party State spokesman Hitesh Bajpai. “Fielding an SC candidate will only remain symbolic for the Congress, which has never resolved the community’s issues.”

Further, State BJP president V.D. Sharma said the strategy for the byelection would also include highlighting “unkept promises of the Congress” during its regime. He said, “The election will be about the BJP versus a Congress in disarray.”

BSP votebank

The Congress source said it would also target the BSP, by attempting to portray its candidates as opportunist”.

“The party doesn't have committed candidates. And Jatav voters, their vote base, are also upset with the BJP, which may benefit us,” he said. Among the Congress rebel MLAs from the division are three Jatav leaders. In addition, two BSP MLAs, who earlier supported the Congress government, recently attended a dinner hosted by the BJP ahead of the Rajya Sabha election.

The BSP vote was unlikely to shift to the BJP in the division, contended Yatindra Singh Sisodia, Director, Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain.

“On at least 12-13 seats of the 16, the BSP is an important contender in triangular contests as many constituencies border Uttar Pradesh where the party is stronger. It has a 8-13% vote share, a committed one, irrespective of candidates,” said Mr. Sisodia.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 1:07:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bypolls-congress-bjp-scramble-for-crucial-dalit-vote-in-gwalior-chambal-region/article31870881.ece

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