Taking note of the Dalit voters choosing BJP in the absence of BSP in the two bypoll seats, Congress has now planned to focus on the sub-castes to make inroads into the community’s vote base.
The party’s state unit will form committees to target Dalit voters in eastern and central part of the state where even the Samajwadi Party, with a traditional Yadav community following, had performed well on reserved seats in the 2012 assembly elections.
While the BSP has primarily been the favourite among Dalits, voters in Moradabad and Ghazipur districts – whose Bilari and Jangipur constituencies, respectively, went to bypolls recently – moved over to BJP in the absence of the Mayawati-led party, which did not contest the polls.
“The shift of BSP’s (Dalit) vote share to BJP has come as a major setback, more than any other result outcome across the country. We thought that after working extensively among Dalits for a year, we shall be able to convince them to vote for us but they did not look towards the party in spite of the BSP’s absence,” a senior party leader said.
Over the past year, Congress in UP had been engaged in attracting Dalits through several programmes, prominent among them being the year-long ‘Bhim Jyoti Yatra’, the eight-month-long ‘Dalit leadership identification’ drive and celebrating Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s 125 birth anniversary, which was undertaken by party units across the country.
All that proved ineffective in the bypolls on two seats, which, although gave majority to the ruling party, saw Dalits choosing BJP in the absence of their traditional favourite.
At present, much of the Congress’s efforts revolve around its Rajya Sabha MP P L Punia, the chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes. Through Punia, who had campaigned for the candidate in Bilari, the party highlights the cause of Dalits in the state.
But its efforts will now shift to focus more on the castes within Dalits – Pasi, Kori, Balmiki, Dhobi, Gond and Khatik – who are not considered as traditional voters of BSP but had largely favoured Samajwadi Party during the 2012 assembly polls, at least on the reserved seats. These sub-castes comprise about 35 per cent of Dalit vote share.
In 2012, out of the 85 reserved constituencies, while BSP won 15, mainly in western UP, as many as 55 seats chose the SP, which included the 20 Pasi candidates in central and eastern parts of the state.
It is these constituencies that the Congress will now focus on, while identifying active party workers and leaders from these sub-castes.
“The result from Bilari made it clear that to defeat the ruling party, even the Jatavs decided to back BJP instead of Congress. BJP banked on communalisation to consolidate the larger section of Hindu votes,” said Bhagwati Chaudhary, chairman of Congress’s SC department in UP. Chaudhary had led the Bhim Jyoti yatras.
“Following the recent tension in Azamgarh, the BJP spoke about how the clash was between Muslims and Dalits. While we understand that bypolls are fought on different lines, the results have forced a re-think. We would do as the party high command asks us to,” Chaudhary added.