Dalits and OBCs to play key role in Nagpur seat, in deciding MPs: MLA Milind Mane
In the Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency, Dalits and OBCs play an important role in deciding the MP, and political parties, including the BJP and the Congress, are pitching for their votes in the run-up to next month's elections.
Nagpur is home to the headquarters of the BJP's ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The central Indian city also houses Deekshabhoomi, a sacred monument of Navayana Buddhism where Dalit icon B R Ambedkar converted to Buddhism with thousands of followers in 1956.
The Nagpur constituency consists of six assembly segments -- Nagpur South West, Nagpur South, Nagpur East, Nagpur Central, Nagpur West and Nagpur North. Nagpur North is reserved for the Scheduled Caste (SC) category. There are a total of 21,26,574 voters, including 10,45,934 women, in Nagpur, where polling will be held in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 11.
Analysts believe Dalits, especially neo-Buddhists, who backed the BJP in 2014 polls, might be looking for an alternative this time. Union minister Nitin Gadkari is the sitting MP from Nagpur. He is pitted against the Congress's Nana Patole, a former BJP MP. The Dalit Buddhist vote holds sway in many pockets of the constituency.
"This time, the general trend among Dalits seems to be anti-BJP. However, these votes will be divided among the Congress-NCP alliance, Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and Mayawati's BSP," former University Grants Commission chairman Sukhdadeo Thorat told PTI.
The only way these votes will not be divided is if all of them come together, he said. BJP MLA from Nagpur North, Milind Mane, however, disagreed with Thorat's assessment. He claimed that the Dalit Buddhist vote percentage in favour of Gadkari will rise up to 27 per cent from 3 to 7 per cent in the last Lok Sabha election.
"The major reason behind this likely surge is not just development work, but the rapport built by the BJP leadership with Ambedkarites. Buddhists have started trusting the BJP," Mane said. The BJP MLA said Gadkari gives equal importance to Deekshabhoomi. Gadkari is approachable for Dalits, Muslims and minorities, Mane said.
According to rough estimates, more than 50 per cent voters in the Nagpur constituency are Other Backward Classes (OBCs), mainly comprising Kunbi and Teli communities. Of the rest, around 15-20 per cent voters are Dalits, both Hindus and Buddhists, while Muslims account for around 12 per cent. Congress SC department chairman and MLA Nitin Raut claimed that there is a lot of resentment against the BJP among Dalits.
"The BJP works on the RSS ideology, which is against the Constitution. Besides, there is a lot of resentment among Dalits against the BJP on various policy issues," he said. "Gadkari may have a good image but the Buddhist community will not see who is the candidate before them, they just don't want the BJP (to return)," Raut asserted.
Nagpur has around 4.5 lakh Dalit voters. Raut said Gadkari might be projecting himself as a Dalit sympathiser, but his contribution to their cause remains questionable. On the Congress's poll strategy, Raut said the party will work to garner maximum votes in the city, which would be possible if Dalits and Muslims vote for it in large numbers.
Meanwhile, Federation of Organisations for Social Justice, Secularism and Democracy, an umbrella organisation of 32 Dalit groups, hopes to consolidate the anti-BJP vote. A member of the organisation said it will try that not more than two Buddhist candidates contest from Nagpur.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which finished third in last Lok Sabha elections, and Ambedkar's VBA have not yet declared their candidates. BSP's Maharashtra unit office secretary Uttam Shevade confirmed that the party would contest from Nagpur. General secretary of Maharashtra Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a constituent of the VBA, Sagar Dabrase, said the party would contest the seat on the support of SC and Muslim voters.
"The Congress is not even in the race to win the polls," he claimed. Meanwhile, BJP member and Dalit leader Rajesh Tambe said Gadkari, who filed his nomination papers on Monday, is the face of development. "Gadkari works for all.
There may be caste equations at play, but Gadkari is a secular leader. He will get around 70 to 80 per cent of 1.5 lakh Hindu and Dalit votes," he claimed.