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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

After Rahul's escape velocity pitch, Congress sets up Dalit agenda

Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, October 24, 2013
First Published: 19:03 IST(24/10/2013) | Last Updated: 01:21 IST(26/10/2013)

Achieving “Jupiter’s escape velocity”, as pitched by leader Rahul Gandhi, might be the final goal for the Congress for empowerment of Scheduled Castes (SC). But in a step comprising of more down-to-earth, tangible targets and performance appraisals, the party has laid down a plan to groom its Dalit leadership.

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"In India, caste concepts are existing. The Dalit community requires the escape velocity of Jupiter,” Gandhi said about progress for Dalits at a recent workshop on empowerment of SC.

Although his theory invoked mixed response in social and political media, the party has started its groundwork to become a “support mechanism that works round-the-clock” that will also pop up a new brand of leadership for the vulnerable section.

The party will revive its Scheduled Castes cells at all levels and give them clear programmes. K Raju, the head of the Scheduled Castes cell of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and a key lieutenant of Gandhi added,” At present, there is no system to identify which state or block unit is doing well or find emerging Dalit leaders. There are no clear-cut benchmarks. We will provide an enabling environment.”

The leaders will be asked to identify issues and impediments that are coming in the way of the Scheduled Castes's in accessing entitlements of states and the centres.

“They have to put pressure on government, even if it is our own, to reach out to the Scheduled Castes. They will be required to identify last-mile issues and mobilize people around them,” Raju added.

The Congress lost considerable ground to regional parties in some states after the Mandal Commission paved way for reservation of backward casts and tribals in government jobs and education. Currently the Congress has 30 out of 84 Lok Sabha seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, union ministers like Sushil Kumar Shinde and Kumari Selja and party general secretary Mukul Wasnik are among the top ranking Dalit leaders in the Congress.

As Gandhi had shared his dream of grooming at least 100 Dalit leaders, the party plans to train SC leaders to “occupy power” on the basis of their performance. “But they shall be leaders for the nation, not just follow a narrow Scheduled Castes agenda,” Raju adds.

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