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UP: Akhilesh Yadav Launches 'Lok Janjagran Yatra' to Focus on Social Justice, Caste Census

Politics heats up in the caste-ridden state ahead of the 2024 elections, with the yatra from Lakhimpur Kheri set to cover all 80 Lok Sabha seats.
 Image courtesy: @yadavakhilesh (Twitter)

 Image courtesy: @yadavakhilesh (Twitter)

Lucknow: With the Lok Sabha elections set to be held next year, Samajwadi Party (SP), the principal opposition party in Uttar Pradesh launched the 'Lok Jagaran Yatra' on Tuesday from Lakhimpur Kheri to raise the issues of caste census and social justice.

The Rath (chariot) Yatra would traverse through all 80 Lok Sabha constituencies across the state in a bid to unite other backward castes (OBCs) in its favour. SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav has been pressing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for a caste-based census for a long-time and intends to make it one of his party’s major poll planks in 2024. The party believes that by conducting caste-wise census, the constitutional rights of different castes will be protected and everyone will get rights and respect according to their proportion in the population.

Kicking off the first phase of the yatra from Lakhimpur Kheri, Yadav, while addressing the party workers said his party would make people aware of the significance of a caste census without which social justice was not possible. 

He also launched a scathing attack on the state government over multiple issues including deteriorating law and order under the ruling BJP, and growing attacks on dalits and other OBCs.

The SP leader said the maximum number of custodial deaths had taken place since the BJP came to power in the state in 2017. Besides the police personnel were being assaulted by the saffron party leaders everywhere in the state.

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Referring to the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in which four of the agitating farmers were mowed down and several injured after they were deliberately run over by an SUV that was part of the convoy of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra in 2021, Yadav said, "BJP members have nothing to do with the law."

The SP president also alleged that several encounters had taken place in the state under BJP rule but the “UP police could not produce in courts the pistols used by them in the exchange of fire.”

Rajeev Rai, the party spokesperson, told NewsClick, “Caste census and social justice would be a key issue ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and we are working aggressively on it. People are aware that one caste has control over everything. We are making a booth level networking committee in every constituency in which around 10-20 local workers will be members of other communities as we want to remove the tag that Samajwadi Party belongs to one specific caste."

Rai asserted that correct data was, therefore, necessary to ensure all castes and communities get due respect and honour.

Will SP Benefit From Bharat Jodo Yatra?

Commenting on the Opposition party’s campaign, Kabool Ahmad, a senior journalist covering UP politics for more than decade, told NewsClick that whenever SP pitched for social justice and brought dalit leaders into their camp, a sharp increase in strike rate was seen and their vote share also increased. The latest example is the 2022 Assembly polls where the party revived itself to some extent. The SP bagged 111 seats in 2022, while it got only 48 seats in 2017. The vote share also increased from 30% to around 36%. 

"The Samajwadi Party is redrawing its strategy to expand its base beyond its Muslim-Yadav (MY) core constituencies to compete with BJP through the Lok Jagaran Yatra. When late Mulayam Singh Yadav was in power, he had opposed the constitutional amendment Bill providing quota for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in promotions in government services in Parliament,” he said, adding that “Later when Akhilesh assumed power, he changed almost every district named after a dalit by BSP chief Mayawati (when she was Chief Minister). “

He said that was when mistrust among dalits with regard to SP started, that the party does not believe in social justice. “Akhilesh Yadav wants to bridge that gap but is confused about which line to take. He is pedalling soft Hindutva and also talking about social justice," said Ahmad.

Commenting further, the senior journalist said: "The BJP has set a new trend in UP politics that revolves around 42% – 45% of the electorate. Realising that his MY vote bank may not be enough to counter BJP, Akhilesh Yadav has set his eyes on the Bahujan Smaja Party (BSP) vote bank, and if they succeed, they might up their vote share from 36% to 42% in the coming polls."

He said the SP chief has realised that the upper caste will never side with his party and only dalits OBCs he could consolidate on name of caste census and social justice where BJP has failed to deliver. 

The journalist and social activist, however, was of the opinion that it would be a challenging task for Akhilesh Yadav to bring dalits under his umbrella, as BJP's Hindutva card has played a significant role in uniting the community.

"Akhilesh has failed to choose a line between soft Hindutva and social justice. He should learn from Congress in Karnataka. They raised Muslim issues despite constant fear of losing upper caste votez, they stuck to social justice issues, but Akhilesh is not talking about Muslim issues in UP,"said another journalist said.   

The party's 'pro-Yadav' image has dented the confidence of the OBC-dalit community. In such a situation, the SP now wants to re-establish its OBC politics by giving an edge to the demand for caste census so that it can face BJP’s Hindutva card, he added.

'No hope left in Mayawati' 

In the light of SP’s yatra, sSome dalit activists and youth leaders NewsClick spoke with, said that with the data of every caste available after the census is done, the government would be able to frame other policies apart from development works.

Sushil Gautam, a dalit scholar told NewsClick, "The youth brigade of our community sees no hope in Mayawati and it is now known that she is indirectly helping BJP. We are looking for an alternative who are neither with BJP’s Hindutva nor with the regressive politics of the BSP. We want representation in every sector and whoever gives us a platform, we will support them."

Another dalit thinker, Abhishek Ambedkar, said if Akhilesh Yadav is able to counter 'hatred' through his yatra and create trust among the most downtrodden community, the youth who do not like the politics of BSP would definitely connect with him. 

Sudhir Panwar, a professor at Lucknow University, said raising issues like social justice, caste census, rural economy and farmer issues was the only way to tackle the polarisation created by the ruling dispensation.

"The OBC leaders whom BJP took in by making them Hindus are also suffocated. Besides, the Central government has formed the Justice Rohini Commission (for sub-categorisation) to divide OBCs but now they do not have any issue left other than polarisation."

 Panwar further argued that the population of OBCs had grown far more than 53%, therefore, a new caste census was required. 

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