Newly appointed BJP president Nitin Gadkari is keen to expand the party’s support base by drawing Dalits and other backward communities into the rank and file.
His move to woo Dalits was evident from the statue of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar placed prominently at the venue of the BJP conclave near here and his equating of Ambedkar with US civil rights leader Martin Luther King in his first address to his party’s national executive on Wednesday.
Drawing a parallel between King and Ambedkar, Gadkari said, “Martin Luther King fought for the dignity of Blacks in the US while Dr Ambedkar devoted his life for social justice for backward classes in the country.”
Significantly, Gadkari visited Ambedkar’s birthplace in Mhow, 25 km from Indore on Tuesday and had lunch at the house of local BJP corporator Preeti Karosiya, who belongs to the Dalit community.
The party president told the national executive that getting the support of the Dalits would enable the BJP to increase its vote-share in general elections by at least 10 per cent, thereby putting it in a position to stake claim for power at the Centre in future.
His decision to garner the support of Dalits was also aimed at increasing the voteshare for the BJP in assembly elections in some states, including Bihar.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Gadkari, however, denied that by drawing a parallel between Ambedkar and King, he was indulging in votebank politics.
“The BJP always considers Dr Ambedkar as the country’s real icon who did not get due recognition from the then ruling party,” he said.
Responding to criticism that the BJP was playing the Dalit card to counter the recent visits of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to Dalit villages, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad denied this. He said Ambedkar was included in the list of revered persons whose legacy is invoked every morning by affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh before Gandhi began visiting Dalit homes.