A senior RSS leader’s call for reviewing the reservation policy gave political fodder to the BJP’s opponents on Saturday, potentially threatening to hurt the saffron party’s prospects in Uttar Pradesh where caste equations play a major role in the election results.
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, crucial for the BJP’s hopes of gaining majority in the Rajya Sabha, will be held over seven phases starting February 11.
A similar comment by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat ahead of the 2015 assembly polls in Bihar is believed to have boomeranged on the BJP, resulting in a resounding victory for a Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, who projects herself as a champion of the Dalits, on Saturday asked the “suppressed community to teach the BJP a lesson in the assembly elections”, indicating the issue will dominate the party’s campaign.
“If (the) BJP comes to power in UP, it will withdraw reservation,” Mayawati said a press conference adding that “Dalit, OBC, ST will reject the saffron brigade.”
Speaking at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival on Friday, Vaidya said reservation –a state policy of providing a fixed number of seats in educational institutions and in jobs to the socially and economically backward -- “won’t serve much purpose and, in fact, could promote separatism”.
Quota for Dalits was required as they had been kept away from education for several years and not accorded respect, said Vaidya, head of the RSS’s communications department.
“…even (BR) Ambedkar has said its continuance in perpetuity is not good. There should be a time limit to it.”
The RSS is considered the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, which is trying to shed an alleged anti-Dalit image, highlighted by incidents of flogging of youth in Gujarat’s Una and the suicide of scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad.
The Congress, trying to find a foothold in the state after many years, too has picked up the issue.
Dubbing the BJP and the RSS anti-Dalit and anti-backward, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said they were trying to polarise voters ahead of the polls.
A stung RSS attempted to control the damage by saying that Vaidya’s remarks were twisted out of context.
Dalits constitute 23% of the electorate in the country’s most populous state.
While the Dalits, especially the Jatav sub-caste, are considered Mayawati’s base vote, the BJP is wooing non-Jatav Dalits in the state.
A senior RSS leader, who refused to be identified, said the BJP’s rivals were trying to create a controversy over the comments.
“This is a situation similar to the one that unfolded during the Bihar polls when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks were picked up selectively to target the RSS and BJP…The RSS has never singled out individuals on the basis of their caste.”
The RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – whose vast network of workers work as foot soldiers for the BJP -- recently launched ‘dine-with-Dalits’ programme to help the party connect with the community.