With less than a year left for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, political parties have started playing their cards to woo voters from different communities. Samajwadi Party president and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is now making a push to charm Dalits. The SP leader last week announced plans to organise a ‘Dalit Diwali’ on April, the birth anniversary of the architect of India’s constitution Bhimrao Ambedkar. Following that, he announced the setting up a frontal organisation, Baba Saheb Vahini, named after the Dalit icon. A few Dalit groups affiliated to the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and other outfits, however, have raised objections.
The Samajwadi Party chief had aligned with the Bahujan Samaj Party, which sees Dalits as its primary constituency, in the 2017 assembly polls. But soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that saw a stunning performance by the BJP in UP and across the country, the alliance was broken by BSP supremo Mayawati. Now it appears Akhilesh Yadav has decided to capture at least a slice of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s traditional vote bank amid a growing political perception of increased understanding between the BSP and the BJP.
Analysts say Dalit voters will play a crucial part in deciding the outcome of the 2022 assembly polls in UP and that is why all parties are attempting to reach out to them. They also maintain that the BSP has lost some of its charm among the community, opening up opportunities for others to step in. Many also feel that Akhilesh Yadav is busy gathering “small packets” of votes. A few days ago, he said he would forge alliances with small parties for the assembly elections.
Speaking to News18, veteran journalist and political commentator Parvez Ahmed said, “The politics of Mulayam Singh Yadav (Akhilesh’s father and former CM) was different from what Akhilesh Yadav is doing these days. With things changing rapidly in the last few years, Akhilesh is now trying to turn the tide once again towards the ‘Mandal Commission’ days. Akhilesh on the one hand is trying to dent the Hindutva vote bank and on the other he is also trying to fill the vacuum that has been created by the inactivity of Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. It is his political game plan ahead of the 2022 assembly polls to woo Dalits by bringing in Baba Saheb Ambedkar in his politics as even today a huge chunk of Dalits idolise Ambedkar as the one who gave them rights in society.”
However, Samajwadi Party spokesperson and legislator Sunil Singh Sajan has said that SP has always stood with the weaker sections of society and fought along with them against the forces that have been trying to end the reservation system and change the Constitution drafted by BR Ambedkar. “We feel that in times when there is a danger looming over our Constitution from the RSS and its allies, we must take the message of Baba Saheb to the weaker sections of society. We will be lighting diyas (lamps) to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti and will also constitute a force to take the message of Baba Saheb to the people. I really don’t know why the BJP is having issues when the Samajwadi Party is celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti; instead, they are the ones who have always done atrocities on the backward classes and Dalits. Our fight is against them and their allies,” said Sajan.
Other parties including the BJP, Congress and Bhim Army are all eyeing Dalit votes for the polls. Their main focus, however, is on the non-Jatav voters. The ruling BJP has made sizeable dent in the non-Jatav vote bank, but analysts say it will be interesting to see how Akhilesh Yadav works on the ground to attract some of these people to his side.
The ruling BJP has also announced that Ambedkar Jayanti will be celebrated as Harmony Day. “There are some political parties that do all this for votes. The BJP works for the development of everyone and reaches people of every caste and religion,” BJP state vice president Vijay Bahadur Pathak told News18.
Kameshwar Chaupal, a Dalit person associated with the BJP and Sangh’s Ram temple movement, has been appointed a member of the Ram Mandir Nirman Trust in Ayodhya for building the temple, which is part of the strategy of the saffron wing to woo the community, observers say. At the same time, the Congress, which once had a firm grip over the Dalit electorate, is not staying quiet. Speaking on the issue, party spokesperson Ashok Singh said, “As the elections are approaching, other political parties are remembering Ambedkar and Dalits, while the most atrocities would have happened under the rule of these parties only.”