WITH JUST over a year to go for Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, every political party is in a race to woo Dalits — a votebank instrumental in deciding who will next rule the state.
While BJP, with some help from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has taken a lead while trying to reaffirm its pro-Dalit credentials, the Congress too is seeking to reverse its fortunes in the politically-crucial state by reaching out to the community through its Bhim Jyoti Yatra.
Now, the ruling Samajwadi Party has stepped in to attract non-Jatav communities among the Dalits in the run-up to 2017 polls. The Mulayam Singh Yadav-led party has chalked out strategy to attract communities such as Pasi, Valmiki, Kori, Khatik and Kannaujia, all non-Jatavs, as it claims that Jatavs are traditionally considered as BSP supporters.
“We are seeking support of these communities as ours is the only party which gives them representation in power,” Jugal Kishore Valmiki, state general secretary of SP’s SC/ST wing told The Indian Express.
Valmiki said the Akhilesh Yadav government has appointed a member of Khatik community, Jagdish Sonkar, as a minister. “Even Mayawati did not appoint a minister from any such community. She favoured members of her own Jatav community. Arun Kumar Kori is another such non-Jatav Dalit minister. We will highlight them,” Valmiki said, claiming that “at one time our party had 10 Dalit MPs”.
To project such leaders and woo the community, SP has lined up several programmes, including Dalit Sammelans at three places — Kanpur, Moradabad and Varanasi. “Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is likely to attend the Dalit Sammelan in Varanasi. Final dates for the Sammelans will be announced in March when the elections to Legislative Council are over,” Valmiki added.
Besides this, the SP government has charted out plans to make masses aware of the work it has done for the Dalit community. A booklet is being prepared, which will highlight party’s initiatives, including announcing of public holiday on Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and re-naming of the Vidhan Sabha Marg as Ambedkar Marg. Both the steps were taken by Mulayam during his regime as chief minister. “He also started the scheme of selecting 10,000 Ambedkar villages for development,” claimed Valmiki.
During Akhilesh Yadav’s regime, the party claimed, 1,08,848 rural sanitation workers have been regularised and honorarium of another 65,000 sanitation workers with local bodies has been increased from Rs 4,000 to Rs 15,000. Akhilesh also recently approved allotment of land for Ambedkar Memorial in CG City, it added.
Last year, in a surprise move, the Akhilesh government had put up a number of hoardings on Ambedkar on his birth anniversary in April even as a party leader, Subhash Pasi, demanded that SP should celebrate the birth anniversaries of the Dalit icons at the memorials constructed during the Mayawati regime.
The party has already asked its Dalit leaders to encourage grass-root workers from their community by incorporating them in booth level committees and also giving them chance to speak at district level meetings.
UP has 85 reserved Assembly seats for the Dalit community. In 2012 polls, SP had won maximum 58 reserved seats while BSP, which positions itself as champion of Dalits could manage only 15. Congress won four seats while Rashtriya Lok Dal and BJP had got three each. The remaining two seats were won by two independents, who are now supporting SP.
SP, however, has a tough task at hand with both Congress and BJP turning pro-active towards Dalit community. Apart from holding ‘Bheem Jyoti Yatra’, Congress has planned a Dalit Conclave in Lucknow on February 18. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi will be attending the Conclave where Congress leaders plan to remind the Dalits of their links with the party.
BJP, too, is working overtime to woo Dalits. In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lucknow and paid tribute to Ambedkar’s urn at Ambedkar Mahasabha. The same day, addressing students at Ambedkar University, he broke silence on suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar at Hyderabad University.
Last year, BJP had organised a week-long programme, Samrasta Saptah, on Ambedkar Jayanti which included ‘sahbhoj’ (dining together) with Dalit families. Pro-RSS magazine Panchjanya too had published a special issue hailing Ambedkar. It had questioned awarding Bharat Ratna to Mother Teresa before Ambedkar. The saffron party has also inducted several BSP discards, including its Rajya Sabha MP Jugul Kishore, in its fold to bolster its image of being pro-Dalit.