Sonu of Baoli village in Baghpat district of western Uttar Pradesh is very firm in his opinion: a large number of Dalit voters are going to vote for the SP-RLD alliance in the upcoming Assembly elections.
“In the last assembly elections, we (Dalits) had voted for BJP in large numbers. But in the last five years, no work has been done on the issues of Dalits. Neither did we get jobs, nor has there been any improvement in wages. Rising prices are adding to our distress,” Sonu complains.
Many Dalits from the area work in brick kilns or fields operated by upper-caste farmers. Their wages have either declined or have not increased for a long time. They also have to face caste oppression, and the administration never supports them, Sonu told NewsClick.
“Now, since the farmers' movement has, to some extent, created a unity among all sections, the Dalit section is also thinking of voting for the SP-Lok Dal alliance.”
BJP is facing a tough electoral battle in the coming elections, according to all indications from various parts of the state. There are two significant reasons for that: one, the economic distress caused by high inflation, unemployment, and the plight of agricultural labourers and farmers; and two, the cracks in BJP with many of its senior ministers and MLAs switching over to the SP. It now seems that the primary contest will be between BJP and the SP alliance.
But in this dynamic electoral scenario, one question that worries SP and BJP is: which alliance will Dalits turn towards? In UP, the Bahujan Samaj Party was the leading claimant of Dalit votes, and this is why the BSP got a little more votes than the SP in the 2017 elections. While BJP got 36.7% of voters polled, SP got 21.8%and BSP 22.2%. It is also a fact that in the last elections, a large section of the Dalit community had also voted for the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh.
Now that the wind is blowing against the BJP to a large extent, the biggest question emerging out of the circumstances is, which way will the Dalits go? Will they turn to BSP or vote for the SP alliance? NewsClick talked to Dalit voters in three major assembly constituencies of Western Uttar Pradesh to investigate this. These are Baraut, Shamli and Budhana, which fall in Baghpat, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar districts. The Dalit population in Baghpat and Shamli is around 12%, and in Muzaffarnagar, it is close to 13.55%.
Sonu’s village Baoli is located a kilometre away from Baraut city under the Baraut Assembly constituency. The population of this relatively big village is around 10,000. It is a predominantly Jat dominated area and is politically influential. In the last elections, Jats had voted for BJP in large numbers, and as a result, BJP representatives won. But the farmers' agitation has changed the electoral equation here. Now, the Jat community primarily supports the SP and Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance and is gearing up to defeat the BJP.
According to the 2011 census, Dalits constitute 16.81% of the population in the state. They are going to have a big effect on the state's election results. Considering the plight of the Dalits in the state, no party or coalition can claim that it has made a lot of efforts for the upliftment of Dalits. Hence there is widespread speculation about the Dalit voters’ hearts and minds.
Shamli and Budhana Assembly constituencies are also Jat dominated areas. In these two areas, the Dalit population constitutes an average of 12.5%. Dalit voters of Sisauli and Bhora Khurd under the Shamli Legislative Assembly say that 90% of people will vote for SP-Lok Dal this time.
Sohanbir of Bhora Khurd, a veteran of many electoral contests, said that the people of the village are very much against the BJP because the “dreams of development” shown by BJP have not been fulfilled.
“The plight of Dalits has become worse than before. Inflation and unemployment have squeezed the downtrodden sections,” he told NewsClick.
Surendra Kumar of Sisauli town says that in the last elections, almost the entire area had voted en masse for the BJP.
“But this time, the situation has changed, and 90% of the voters will vote for the SP-Lok Dal alliance,” Kumar asserted to NewsClick.
In Chandheri village, which has a population of about 2,400 and falls under the Budhana Assembly Constituency, Dalit voters are turning to the SP-Lok Dal alliance.
“Although traditionally Dalit voters have been voting for BSP, the situation has changed this time, and Dalit votes can be divided into SP-Lok Dal and BSP. People, in general, are angry with BJP's misrule and Dalit voters are also in favour of a change in the state this time,” said Ajit Singh of Chandheri village.
Since the electoral scenario is not yet entirely clear, it remains to be seen which alliance manages to woo these sections completely. But one thing is sure that due to the farmers' movement, the BJP's ground seems to be slipping in western Uttar Pradesh and Dalit voters also want to join this campaign so that the change coming in the state can be ensured.