Dalits are a prized segment of voters in Uttarakhand, where especially BJP has gone the extra mile to woo the community which accounts for 18.8% of electorate.
Uttarakhand has 13 reserved seats. In 2012 assembly elections, Congress won six seats, BJP five and BSP two. Out of the five reserved constituencies in Kumaon, Congress won three and two went to BJP. More than 20 seats have a sizeable population of Dalits where their votes can be very crucial in deciding fate of candidates.
Not surprising, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made Almora Lok Sabha MP Ajay Tamta a union minister of state in the second expansion of Cabinet in July 2016.
On Modi’s birthday, BJP held a series of social welfare programmes for the poor including Dalits to celebrate ‘Sewa Diwas’. Dalit sammelans (conferences) were held in all 70 assembly constituencies.
To cap it, the opposition party weaned away former revenue and irrigation minister Yashpal Arya from Congress and gave tickets to him and his son Sanjeev. BJP spokesperson Bindesh Gupta said the party was following the ideals set by Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.
“We will bag most of the reserved seats and get a major chunk of votes from the community as the people have realized our commitment to the welfare of Dalits,” he asserted.
But it is not BJP alone that is trying to win over the community. BSP supremo Mayawati will address two rallies in Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar districts in February. Dalit and Muslims, the BSP’s traditional vote banks, form a sizeable population in these two districts.
BSP state president Bhrigurashan Rao said his party alone can give wings to aspirations of Dalits. “There will be very surprising results this time. Dalits have understood that those pretending to be their friends are foes and they will vote tactically to elect candidates of their choice,” he said.
Congress too is not fart behind in its attempt to consolidate its voter base among Dalits. Pradeep Tamta of Congress became the first Dalit leader friom Uttarakhand to be elected to Rajya Sabha in June last year. In fact, Tamta is the only prominent Dali face left with Congress after Arya’s exit.
Congress spokesperson Hukum Singh Kunwar conceded that the value of Dalit votes is well known in Uttarakhand. “Congress is a true friend and well-wisher of Dalits. We have got a major chunk of their votes in the past,” he said, hoping Dalits would vote for the party as it remained committed to its promise of their development.