The BJP’s plans to reach out to Dalits have made their way to the banks of River Shipra in Ujjain, where the Simhastha Kumbh is being held.
Come Wednesday, party chief Amit Shah will take a “dip of harmony” with Dalits and tribals in the river at the ongoing festival.
Shah will also break bread with the marginalised sections at the community feast immediately after the ‘Samrasta Snan’ on May 11.
The event is in line with the BJP’s larger plans to connect with Dalits with twin objectives. First, to address the sense of alienation among the community that constitutes about 17% of the country’s total population. Second, break the popular impression of the BJP being a party that provides little space to Dalits.
“The RSS is working towards unification of the Hindu society. The sense of alienation among Dalits is a major obstacle in achieving this goal. The BJP and its government at the Centre are trying to remove this hurdle,” a BJP leader said.
Dalits are crucial in the BJP’s scheme of things as the party plans to expand its footprint across India. It crafted a successful outreach programme for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) during the Lok Sabha election, which helped it win 282 of 543 Lok Sabha seats, and the party wants to consolidate its position by keeping Scheduled Castes (SC) within the saffron fold.
SCs account for over 20% of the total population of Uttar Pradesh that will vote next year to elect a new government. The BJP is desperate to wean the SCs away from the Bahujan Samaj Party. Punjab (32%) and Himachal Pradesh (25%) are two other states with significant SC population. Punjab votes early next year while Himachal Pradesh will vote in 2017.
From attempts to appropriate the legacy of Dr BR Ambedkar to lifting the social and economic status of Dalits, the Narendra Modi regime has its eyes set on SCs. The government also notified the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Rules, 2016, on April 14 that made stronger provisions for the protection of SCs and STs from atrocities.