The Samajwadi Party has started to court Dalits like never before, lining up a series of programmes through its Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes cell, which had rarely participated actively in politics until now. This comes after the SP government had surprised Lucknow with a number of hoardings on B R Ambedkar’s hoardings on his birth anniversary in April.
The SP holds the highest number of UP’s reserved seats, 58 out of 85, but was never seen to have specifically targeted the Dalit votebank. Constituting 21 per cent of the state’s population, Dalits were seen as loyal to the BSP. That party having been wiped out in the Lok Sabha polls, all others have since then being wooing the vote bank for 2017.
The SP’s SC/ST cell will organise Dalit sammelans at all 18 divisional headquarters, starting with Azamgarh on June 21 and culminating with a national Dalit sammelan in Lucknow on December 6, the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, says Subhash Pasi, president of the cell.
It will be a first for the SP, which has never organised a public meeting on either Ambedkar’s birth or death anniversary. Also, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has restored a public holiday on the death anniversary.
“Just wait for our Dalit sammelans to begin and you will notice a wave of change in support of the SP. The programmes have been finalised by CM Akhilesh,” says Pasi, who is also the MLA from Saidpur.
The SC/ST cell has urged the leadership to include Dalit leaders in booth committees. “At least two Dalit persons should be in every booth committee,” Pasi says.
Pasi has written to Akhilesh demanding that the SP also celebrate the birth anniversaries of other Dalit icons at memorials constructed during the Mayawati regime. So far, only BSP cadre visit these memorials on anniversaries. “These monuments are not private properties. They have been constructed with public money and everyone has a right,” Pasi says.
The single largest subgroup is Gautam Dalits. Since this group is seen as loyal to Mayawati’s BSP, the SP is focusing on the other 16 or 17 Dalit groups such as Rawat, Valmiki, Paswan, Beriya, Kori, Rajvanshi, Suman and Paras. “Taken individually, these castes may not match the Gautams, but taken cumulatively they outnumber them,” Pasi says.
For the Congress, a comeback in the Hindi heartland will depend on winning back the Dalits who were once its traditional voters. It has nominated National Commission for Scheduled Castes chairman P L Punia to the Rajya Sabha after his defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. Rahul Gandhi was in Mhow, Ambedkar’s birthplace, while the party is set to launch a celebration of Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary.
There was a first in the BJP, too, which organised a one-week programme, Samrasta Saptaah, on Ambedkar Jayanti including sahbhoj (dining together). The RSS also published a special issue of its mouthpiece Panchjanya hailing Ambedkar, and questioned why the Bharat Ratna was given to Mother Teresa before Ambedkar. The BJP has nominated Laxman Acharya, a Dalit from Varanasi, as an MLC in UP and inducted former DGP Brijlal and several BSP discards.
With the BSP looking vulnerable to poaching, Mayawati on April 14 urged Dalits to be cautious and united. In a public address, she said Ambedkar had lost a Lok Sabha election in Mumbai due to the Congress, and the BJP had withdrawn support to the V P Singh government when the latter had decided to give Ambedkar the Bharat Ratna. About the SP, she said its new-found love for Ambedkar is due to compulsion.