In the wake of Dalit protests against the BJP, the party on Friday cancelled a visit by its chief Amit Shah to Agra, scheduled for July 31.
Shah was supposed to participate in a rally by Buddhist monk and former MP Dhamma Viriyo, who has been leading the Dhamma Chetna Yatra in Dalit-OBC pockets of Uttar Pradesh to gather support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Dalit groups and BSP workers have protested against the BJP’s association with the yatra, and BJP sources said this was the reason Shah’s visit was called off.
Officially, BJP state spokesperson Chandra Mohan said Shah’s visit had been cancelled because the venue of the rally had to be shifted from a sprawling ground at Kothi Meena Bazar to an indoor hall at Saraswati Shishu Mandir due to the rain. He said BJP national general secretary Arun Singh and party state president Keshav Prasad Maurya will attend the Agra rally and also address a meeting at Saraswati Shishu Mandir.
Party sources in Agra, however, said Shah’s visit had been cancelled in light of the recent protests. Fearing that protesters could show up with black flags or enter into clashes with BJP workers during Shah’s rally, the party felt it was best to cancel the BJP chief’s visit, sources said.
Led by 87-year-old Viriyo, leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Bhikkhu Mahasangh, the yatra was flagged off by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at Sarnath in Varanasi on April 24. It is likely to conclude in Lucknow in October, and organisers hope the PM will address the gathering then.
On July 24, when the yatra reached Aligarh, a group of Buddhist monks who were part of it had asked local BJP leaders to leave following a protest by Dalits and Jatavs, who had gathered at the venue to welcome the yatra. The Dalits and Jatavs were reportedly unhappy with the presence of BJP leaders at the event, which ultimately led to red faces in the party.
BJP’s Braj region president B L Verma said that over a dozen BSP workers displayed black flags and raised “go back” slogans when the yatra reached Mathura on Thursday. “The BSP is irritated because the yatra is garnering support for the BJP and they are losing support of Dalit voters,” Verma said.
But senior BSP leader and leader of opposition in the UP assembly Gayacharan Dinkar said that those protesting the yatra were not BSP workers. “They (the protesters) are the real followers of Buddhism. They are opposing the yatra because a religion, Buddhism, is being used for a political purpose. BJP has given a political colour to that yatra,” Dinkar said.
Verma denied that the protest in Mathura had anything to do with Shah’s rally getting cancelled.
Instead, he gave a different reason: “Earlier, the rally was planned at a grand scale in an open ground. But the hall of Saraswati Shishu Mandir can accommodate only a small crowd and that will not suit the party’s national president.”
The public meeting was planned in Agra because a large section of Dalits there practise Buddhism. BJP has asked district presidents on the yatra route to welcome Viriyo, arrange for the stay of monks and others, and ensure their safe movement. District presidents have formed committees for this task.