A scramble has begun for the Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh, which many believe are up for grabs.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar recently at a Ghazipur rally in east UP gave a clarion call for the abolition of caste system to build Ambedkar’s vision of an egalitarian society, but all other parties--the BJP, Samajwadi Party and the Congress--are invoking BR Ambedkar to cultivate Dalit votes in the state. Even All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi at his first rally in Faizabad chose to drum up the Bahujan Samaj Party war cry of Dalit-Muslim unity to grab power.
The BJP and the Congress, however, are eying pan-India build-up as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has failed to expand its vote base outside the UP boundaries.
Why? Till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BSP was considered the sole proprietor of the Dalit vote bank. But its control on it started weakening from the 2012 assembly polls in UP. Notwithstanding Mayawati’s claim of protecting her party’s vote base from the Modi wave in the 2014 general election, the exodus of Dalits from the BSP is by now well documented. Taking advantage of the good weather, her political adversaries have now gone hiking.
Dalit politics expert Dr Badri Narain from JNU explains, “Dalits became soft target after they shifted from the BSP in the last two elections. The political parties are now trying to poach the vulnerable vote bank to augment their already existing base vote--the BJP has the upper caste, the SP has the Yadavs.”
As of now, the 21% votes in Uttar Pradesh are fragmented. While Jatavs, which form the major chunk, are aligned with Mayawati, especially after the courts rescinded her government’s order on quota in promotions in government jobs, the other prominent sub caste Pasis, the opinion makers, are looking at other options.
Rajya Sabha member Jugar Kishore, who moved from the BSP to the BJP, insists there has been an exodus of Dalits from the BSP’s vote bank since 2009. “I was party’s coordinator in five divisions in east UP and have data to prove that the BSP lost on booths with heavy Jatav vote bank.” He is pinning his hopes on the pace with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar- his government building memorials of Ambedkar in North London, Delhi and Maharashtra, his visit to Ambedkar University and Ambedkar Mahasabha in Lucknow, the 125th birth anniversary celebrations, his dialogue with Dalit Industrial Chambers of Commerce and Industry(DICCI) et al.
Lalji Prasad Nirmal from Ambedkar Mahasabha has a different take. According to him a large chunk of Dalit votes shifted from the BSP as Mayawati failed to empower them economically. The community is more aware now and would support the party that would take up their issues.
Dr AK Verma, director of Kanpur-based Centre for the Study of Society and Politics says, “The BSP’s Dalit support went down by 23% throughout the state in 2012 and 35% in 2014. Mayawati will be the strongest challenger in 2017 if she manages to retrieve her lost Dalit support base.”
Mayawati has been silently working on consolidating her base vote as she knows only then the surplus vote - like Muslims and Most Backward Castes- would fall in her kitty .
Senior BSP leader RK Choudhary mocking at the ongoing political gimmicks says, ‘ All their efforts to encash Ambedkar’s name is going to fall flat as his followers are already aligned with the BSP and can see through their games.
However BSP’s job gets tougher with onslaught on her vote bank from all political quarters