BJP steps up Dalit-wooing, but avoids direct scrap with Mayawati
- At any event it organises, BJP keeps two portraits on the dais for floral tributes - those of DD Upadhyaya and SP Mookerjee
- In Kanpur on Saturday, a third image was placed between the two - that of Dr BR Ambedkar
- It\'s no secret that the BJP is trying to appropriate Ambedkar in order to woo Dalits
- The community is key to the BJP\'s electoral fortunes in next year\'s UP Assembly polls
More in the story
- Why BJP is avoiding a direct confrontation with Mayawati\'s BSP
- What percentage of the Dalit vote could push the BJP over the line in UP?
In any function it organises, the Bharatiya Janata Party keeps two portraits on the dais for floral tributes - those of its inspirational figures Deendayal Upadhyaya and Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
But on Saturday, when BJP national president Amit Shah went to Kanpur to address the Kshetriya Booth Karyakarta Sammelan (regional booth-level workers' summit), there were three photos on the dais. What's more, the new image was kept in the centre, and given pride of place between Upadhyaya and Mookerjee. It was an image of Dr BR Ambedkar.
The BJP's attempts to appropriate Ambedkar are nothing new; however, its focus on him as the central figure did come as a surprise.
Why has Ambedkar suddenly become so important to the party? The reason is the quest for the crucial Dalit vote in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections early next year.
The Mayawati factor
Dalits already have a 'messiah' in the state. BSP supremo Mayawati, the former CM, is the biggest Dalit leader in the electoral politics of our time.
The vote patterns of the last few elections show that Dalits, who traditionally voted for the Congress party, have shifted their faith to Mayawati since the 1990s.
In 2012, she lost power in the state to the Samajwadi Party, but the BSP did well enough to remain the main Opposition party in the state. However, Mayawati lost badly in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, not managing a single victory on UP's 80 seats.
But now, all eyes are back on Mayawati, to see how she fares in the polls. People are discussing the merits and demerits of her rule vis-a-vis Akhilesh Yadav's rule, and speculation has begun about the BSP winning the elections.
The BJP is confident that there will be an upper caste vote consolidation in its favour. However, the upper castes have traditionally been the party's core support base, and the results haven't been great - the party currently has just 41 MLAs in a house of 403.
So how did it manage to do so well in the Lok Sabha polls, winning 73 seats out of 80? The answer is simple: by increasing its appeal among other communities as well, especially the backward classes that make up a huge chunk of the state's electorate.
The party is now trying to replicate this by wooing extremely backward classes and Dalits.
The umbrella term 'Dalit' comprises many castes. Mayawati, for example, hails from the Jatav caste, and this community has voted for her in a consolidated manner election after election.
But there are other Dalit castes as well that the BJP is focussing on. The RSS is also helping it build a base among these castes.
"PM Modi is popular among Dalits as well. They also want development and they will vote for us," says a BJP leader who is working on poll preparations in the state.
In the first week of April this year, Modi started his 'Mission UP' from Noida. The PM distributed e-rickshaws and announced many more sops which would directly favour the poor, and especially, Dalits.
Party president Shah, during the Simhastha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, took the holy dip with Dalit sadhus. On 31 May, he went to a Dalit BJP worker's home in Varanasi, and had lunch with the family.
The BJP's idea is clear: to identify itself more and more with the communities which have traditionally not been its support base.
Magic number - 20%
In Kanpur and Lucknow on Saturday, Shah met Dalit workers from across the state, in a bid to define the party's strategy towards Dalits.
Shah said: "We are working towards turning Dalit youth into job creators. The SP and the BSP never did anything for the Dalits, and Congress has no intentions of doing so. The BJP is the only party which thinks for their betterment."
A BJP leader told Catch: "Our base and acceptance among Dalits has increased. We are hopeful about getting more Dalit votes in the upcoming elections. If we get more than 20% of Dalit votes, nothing can stop us from forming the government in the state."
In the coming days, there will be more attempts to appease Dalit voters.
Another strategy that the BJP is following is ruling out a direct fight with the BSP. Shah, in fact, recently stated that the fight for UP would be between the SP and the BJP.
Recognising the BSP in a fight means there will be a consolidation of Dalit votes. And the BJP can't beat the BSP is a straight fight for the Dalit vote.
That's why the BJP is playing the Dalit card safely and cleverly. But only time will tell if it will be successful.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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