Major Parties Target Dalit Votes Amid BSP’s Existential Crisis
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, all major political players are eying the BSP’s Dalit vote bank amid the party’s persistent decline in electoral performance in Uttar Pradesh (UP) since 2012.
The BJP, SP and Congress are trying to win the trust of the state's nearly 22% Dalit population, which plays an instrumental role in the politically significant UP.
BSP’s EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
The Mayawati-led pro-Dalit BSP is facing an existential crisis in UP, where it formed a government on its own in 2007 after winning more than 206 seats in the 403-seat Aassembly with a 30.43% vote share.
The BSP’s performance started declining since the 2012 Assembly election. Now, it has only one seat and a 12.88% vote share, which is 17.55% less than its 2007 vote share.
It is widely believed that the BJP dented the BSP in 2014, and a large chunk of BSP voters (non-Jatav) voted for the saffron party with the entry of Narendra Modi into national politics.
Now, it is a common perception that there is disillusionment among Jatavs, comprising around 55% of the total Dalit population, against the BSP because of Mayawati’s reluctance to work on the ground for the community.
YOGI HAILS MODI
The BJP, SP and Congress are all trying to woo the Dalit community to take them into their fold. The BJP commenced a series of conferences for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The first conference to connect with the Dalit community was held in Hapur, where chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath hailed Prime Minister Modi for giving due respect to the Dalit community and said that the PM has developed Panchtirth, the five places associated with Dalit icon Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Yogi also attacked its arch-political rival in the state, the SP, attempting to consolidate the backward, SCs and minorities to challenge the BJP’s Hindutva politics. “Is it not true that during the SP rule, scholarships of SC/ST students were stopped in 2015-16?” Yogi said.
BJP insiders disclosed that the party will focus more on catching Jatav voters as the party leadership believes non-Jatav voters already opted for the saffron party in 2014.
The saffron party planned six such meetings across the state: in Aligarh on October 19, Kanpur on October 28, Prayagraj on October 30, Lucknow on November 2 and in Gorakhpur on November 3.
REVIVIAL OF AMBEDKAR VAHINI
SP president and former CM Akhilesh Yadav wants to revive the Ambedkar Vahini, founded by his party in October 2021, to increase its outreach to Dalits while trying to place social justice over the BJP’s Hindutva at the centre of politics.
The experiment has paid a dividend. Political thinkers believe that, up to some extent, non-Jatavs, including Pasi, Valmiki, etc., voted for the SP in the Assembly segments of Azamgarh and Prayagraj. The SP got 32.06% of the vote, the party’s all-time high performance since its formation in October 1992.
An SP leader says that the motive for rejuvenating the Ambedkar Vahini is to galvanise the issue of caste census, which has been much under discussion since the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government released data on the caste survey. Reservations in jobs and educational institutions is another key issue the SP plans to raise in the Dalit community.
The party believes that pritvatising public sector undertakings reduced job opportunities for Dalits and the backward, leading to unemployment in their communities.
The Congress, with only two lawmakers in the Assembly and a mere 3.22% vote share, also wants to rejuvenate the party with the support of Dalits and Muslims.
The Congress has been out of power for more than three decades in a state that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. According to political observers, the split of Brahmin, Dalit, and Muslim votes among the BJP, BSP and SP, respectively, between the late 1980s and early 1990s weakened the grand old party in UP.
The Congress is trying to wrest the Dalits and Muslims from the BSP and SP, respectively. Among the Dalit masses, the party is setting a narrative that only the consolidation of Dalit and Muslim votes could dethrone the BJP, which is “orchestrating a conspiracy to change the Constitution”.
Party leaders argue that since the late 1980s, Dalit and Muslim consolidation kept the communal forces out of power with the BJP confined to only two seats in Parliament. But the division of these two vote banks has made communal forces formidable.
LACK OF DALIT REPRESENTATION
Dalit thinkers believe that it is an uphill task for these parties to dent the Jatav votes for the BSP in the presence of Mayawati.
Professor Ravikant Chandan says secular forces should focus on wresting non-Jatavs from the BJP’s fold. Non-Jatavs supported the BJP as the other parties did not give them adequate representation in party organisation and power, he adds. If the other parties offered them representation, they wouldn’t have supported the BJP as they are not traditional voters or supporters of communal agendas.
CHANDRA SHEKHAR FACTOR
Chandra Shekhar Azad campaigned for SP-RLD candidates in Khatauli and Rampur and visited Ambedkar’s birthplace on April 14. His political weight increased as an RLD candidate won the election.
Speculations are rife that Azad also wants to contest the Lok Sabha election. It is assumed that Azad’s Bhim Party will likely be part of the INDIA alliance. However, he has said that a decision on joining the alliance will be taken only in 2024.
Similarly, political commentator Atul Chandra says, “Azad still does not have a cult to replace Mayawati as, despite successive debacles, the BSP chief has a grip over Jatav votes.” However, Chandra says if Dalit votes split from the BJP or BSP, they will most likely sway into the Congress fold.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Uttar Pradesh.
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