Inspired by their leader Rahul Gandhi's forays into Dalit villages, Congressmen in Uttar Pradesh on Friday used Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary to dent Chief Minister Mayawati's Dalit vote bank.
Seventeen of the 19 Congress Lok Sabha MPs and each of its 19 MLAs, besides other prominent party leaders, have set out to spend on Friday night in a Dalit home in some part of the state.
Taking the lead was state Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who has identified a tribal village in a remote corner of her home district, Allahabad, for the purpose.
Prominent among others who followed course included union ministers Jitin Prasada, who was camping in Lakhimpur-Kheri, Pradeep Jain in Jhansi and RPN Singh in Padrauna.
Congress state legislature party chief Pramod Tiwari was spending the night in a Dalit village in Pratapgarh, while Jagdambika Pal, MP from Basti, was doing likewise in a tiny Dalit hamlet in his constituency.
Barely 10 days back, the Congress general secretary had landed unannounced at Lucknow airport from where he drove off to an undisclosed destination, and eventually he was located in a Dalit village in Shravasti district where he spent the night in a poor Dalit's home.
While the move was widely appreciated by the downtrodden communities, it drew much flak from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government, that raised objections against what it termed as "violation of security norms and protocol".
But Rahul Gandhi's initiative inspired the state Congressmen to take the cue and follow suit, much to the displeasure and discomfiture of the state government.
"Mayawati sees the move as a threat to her vote bank, for whom she has done nothing concrete so far," alleged state Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi.
"For us, this is nothing new as we have always considered Dalits a part of us. It is Mayawati who discriminates against Dalits by disallowing any access to them; and it is unthinkable for her to go to a Dalit's doorstep, not to talk about eating or staying with them," Joshi pointed out.
Asked if she had received directions from the party high command to initiate the exercise, Joshi replied, "We were inspired by Rahul Gandhi's initiative."