This year marks the 25th anniversary of Babri Masjid's demolition. But on 6 December, the focus of politicking in Uttar Pradesh won't be the contentious Ayodhya issue. It'll be Dalit politics.
While the Congress has already launched its Dalit Yatra with the slogan "Shiksha, Suraksha Aur Samman (education, security and honour)", the Samajwadi Party government wants to cash in on its decision to declare 6 December, the death anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, as a public holiday.
The Congress's Dalit outreach programme is targeting UP's 85 reserved constituencies encompassing over 3,000 odd villages. The party, which doesn't have any representation from these constituencies, is especially keen to catch the Dalit voters who might be planning to go with any party other than the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The BJP has been running a sustained campaign to win over the Dalits. On 6 December, the party's national president Amit Shah will be paying tributes to Ambedkar in Delhi. In Kanpur, the party will launch a video van for election campaigning, and the occasion will also be used to "remember" the father of India's Constitution.
So, in effect, the Dalit issue has overshadowed the Ayodhya controversy, and the sabre-rattling over the ownership of the disputed site and the demolition of the Babri Masjid is missing.
Asked why the BJP was silent on the Ram Janmbhoomi issue, the party's spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak said it was "never a political issue" for them. "A temple is already there and the matter is before the Supreme Court," Pathak said.
Year after year, as 6 December approached, the SP would rake up the Ram Janmbhoomi controversy to assure Muslims that not only was it their saviour, but also of their cause. But in this election season, Dalit votes are obviously of greater importance.
An SP functionary said that although Jatav votes are undoubtedly with Mayawati, his party was trying to win over non-Jatav voters like the Pasis, Valmikis etc.
The Congress, which started its Dalit Yatra on 4 December 4, has always opposed the BJP-Vishwa Hindu Parishad stand on the Ayodhya issue. This time, it hasn't spent its energy in condemning the saffron outfits.
Instead, a Congress leader said that the Dalits needed to be "uplifted". The other political parties have only misled them with false promises and that's what the Congress were going to talk to them about during the yatra, the leader said.
For Mayawati, 6 December is a big day as far as Ambedkar is concerned, but she may also try to use the opportunity to tell her voters not to fall for the bait being dangled by her political opponents.
As for the BJP, having lost ground due to the actions of groups associated with the Sangh Parivar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the charge to win the trust of Dalits. At a public rally in Hyderabad in August, he said, "If you have to attack, attack me but stop attacking my Dalit brethren."
A day later, without naming gau rakshaks, Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh, was reported to have said, "We urge all communities in the country to maintain peace and social harmony. People should be careful about individuals and groups who are trying to disturb social harmony. We hope the administration will act against these people and not allow them to break the law."
Also, with the aim of making inroads in Mayawati's Dalit vote bank, the Modi government has launched programmes like Stand Up India and soft loans for financially weaker sections.