April 12, 2021 3:22:22 am
In line with its strategy of courting Dalit voters ahead of next year’s Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Samajwadi Party (SP) on Sunday celebrated the birth anniversary of anti-caste reformer Jyotirao Phule at its state headquarters and district offices. This came a day after the Opposition party announced a frontal organisation named the Baba Saheb Vahini to work for the uplift of Dalits.
Earlier this week, SP president and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav announced his party would celebrate Dr BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on April 14 as “Dalit Diwali”, and directed SP workers and leaders to reach out to the Dalit community that day. The ruling BJP, and the Congress criticised the SP, accusing Akhilesh of restricting Ambedkar to only Dalits even though he is revered worldwide.
Unfazed by the criticism, Akhilesh announced the launch of the Baba Saheb Vahini, tweeting, “We resolve to constitute Baba Saheb Vahini on the occasion of the architect of the Constitution Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on the level of district, state and nation. The outfit aims to spread thoughts of Baba saheb for social justice and equality.”
According to the 2011 census, Dalits constitute around 20 per cent of the state’s population and are crucial in deciding who forms the government. Till now, the SP did not have a frontal organisation dedicated to the community, unlike the Congress and the BJP. Traditionally, the Akhilesh Yadav-led party relied on the Yadavs, an OBC group, and Muslims to propel it to power. But, in recent times, Akhilesh has shifted strategy and is making efforts to incorporate Dalit leaders, mainly from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), into his party. The BSP, which has always garnered the Dalit vote, has lost several senior leaders to the SP, with which it had allied in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Akhilesh’s decision to fight the polls with the BSP sent a message to the Dalit community that the SP was not averse to working for the community. However, BSP chief Mayawati broke the alliance soon after the election.
In the last six months, prominent Dalit leaders such as former minister Indrajeet Saroj, former Rajya Sabha MP Balihari Babu, former BSP state chief Dayaram Pal have joined the SP. On the anniversary of Sant Ravidas, who is revered by Dalits, on February 27, Akhilesh visited a famous Ravidas temple in Varanasi.
A senior SP leader said the decision to get Dalits onboard was “far-sighted”.
He added, “In the 2017 elections, we fought based on our work in the state. We forgot that social engineering in the UP is very crucial for the elections, and hence, this time we are not taking any chances and trying to get Dalits to vote for us, and not just the communities which have traditionally voted for the SP. This will be the much-needed social engineering that the party needs to win the state polls next year.”
Another party leader said the Dalit outreach strategy took shape during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “The announcement may have been made yesterday, but the work to reach out to Dalits started in 2019 itself,” he added.
At Sunday’s event honouring Jyotirao Phule, Akhilesh said, “Mahatma Jyotiba Phule raised his voice against child marriage, widow remarriage and other social ills when the society was full of conservativism.”
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