Rattled by political rivals making inroads into its traditional support base, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is drawing up plans for deeper engagement with Dalits, including deputing senior leaders to pursue cases of caste atrocities and focusing on expansion of the party membership drive.
In the April-May national elections, the BSP failed to secure even a single seat in Uttar Pradesh, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies built on support from Dalits to grab 71 of the state’s 80 parliamentary seats. The results sent alarm bells ringing in the BSP.
Under direction from party chief Mayawati to stem the rot, BSP leaders met on Friday to discuss ways to stop political rivals, especially the BJP, from weaning away Dalits. Many party leaders admitted that the BJP was finding success with its strategy.
"The BJP leaders are aggressively meddling in issues concerning Dalits to project themselves as their saviours," said a leader who attended Friday’s meeting held to chalk out strategies to blunt the saffron party's moves.
The leader cited the example of a dispute between Dalits and Muslims over the removal of a loudspeaker from a Dalit temple in Kanth area of Moradabad district last month. Several BJP parliamentarians and legislators had gone to the area demanding restoration of the loudspeaker.
"They are also interfering in tiffs between Dalits and Muslims in west UP. We cannot remain silent spectators to their plan to polarise the voters," the BSP leader said.
The BSP leaders plan is to visit the trouble spots and take up with the administration the disputes involving Dalits but without communalising the atmosphere.
"Our aim is to prevent flare-ups and ensure fair probe into the incidents," said BSP state unit president Ramachal Rajbhar.
Although the BSP has decided not to contest the by-elections to 12 assembly seats, the party plans to challenge its rivals at the local bodies’ election. Keeping that in mind, the BSP district and divisional office bearers were directed to focus on the party membership drive.
Party leaders said a Bahujan Voluntary Force (BVF) will be constituted at the district and divisional level as well. The force plays an important role in the mobilisation of the party supporters in the public meetings.
Taking advantage of the divide created by the last year's bloody Hindu-Muslim clashes in Muzaffarnagar, the BJP had managed to woo a sizable number of loyal BSP voters among the Jatav (Dalit) community in the west UP.
The BSP had won 20 seats (out of total 80 seats in UP) in 2009 LS polls, which placed it behind SP's 23 and Congress' 21. But it failed to open its account this general election.
Its vote share at 27.42 percent was the highest compared to the SP's 23.26 percent and Congress' 17.25 percent in 2009. The vote share dropped to 19% in 2014.
In fact, after stitching a Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim coalition, its vote share had exceeded the percentage of Dalits in the state, which is 20.5% in UP.
In the review meeting held after the declaration of Lok Sabha poll results, Mayawati had directed the party leaders to chalk out a plan to counter the saffron brigade's strategy to polarise the voters, particularly the Jatavs.