Mission UP: Congress Organises Nukkad Sabhas to win Back Dalits, Muslims
After a spectacular and morale-boosting victory in the Karnataka election, the Congress is attempting to rejuvenate its Uttar Pradesh (UP) unit for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. With an eye on dalit and Muslim votes, the party is organising Nukkad Sabhas, or street corner meetings.
The Congress started its campaign in 300 dalit and Muslim-populated villages with its minority cell holding meetings at tea stalls since June 5. The party aims to convince the two communities that the Constitution is getting eroded under the Narendra Modi regime.
As part of the campaign, Congressmen assemble 50–300 dalits and Muslims from a particular village to persuade them to support the party, their old shelter. Congress leaders remind people about when dalits and Muslims were with the party.
Party leaders also distribute pamphlets explaining the dalit-Muslim combination’s political significance to foil communal forces. According to the pamphlets, the two communities were with the Congress until the 1990s and their unity had restricted the pro-Hindutva BJP to only two seats in the Lok Sabha.
Local Congress leaders believe that since dalits and Muslims decoupled from the party in the early 90s, the party has become weak in UP, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats. The grand old party has been out of power in UP for more than three decades.
According to party insiders, the Congress intends to mobilise Muslims and dalits into its fold and neutralise the state’s regional players in the general election—as it did with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka.
In the last few elections, a large chunk of dalits, particularly non-jatavs, swayed to the BJP. Political observers say that dalit leader and former chief minister (CM) Mayawati’s inactivity on the ground has created a vacuum in dalit politics and disillusionment in the community towards the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The BSP’s vote share has dipped persistently in UP. The party got 22.24% of the votes in the 2017 Assembly election but its vote share dipped to 12.81% in 2022, a loss of 9.43%. In its worst performance, the BSP bagged only one seat in an Assembly of 403 seats in the last election.
It appears that the Congress wants to take advantage of the persistent fall in the BSP graph. Ram Kumar, a member of the dalit community, told this reporter, “The Congress played a trump card by electing Mallikarjun Kharge as its national president. The dalits’ hopes have increased as they see a man from their community helming a national party.”
If the Congress sincerely continues with its Nukkad Sabhas and simultaneously raises issues like unemployment, inflation, agrarian distress, etc., it will pay dividends in 2024, he added.
“Dalit youths are not partisan voters as earlier; they would vote for any party that raises their issues and supports their struggle for equal rights,” he said.
According to UP Congress minority cell chief Shahnawaz Alam, “On the issue of dalit atrocities, only the Congress stands firmly against the BJP.”
During the Hathras gang-rape incident, “Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi was the only political leader who met the victim’s family. Where was the BSP chief [Mayawati], elected chief minister several times with the support of dalits”? he said.
According to Alam, the Congress is “also mobilising Ambedkarites in these meetings against the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC)”. “The BJP wants to wrest the Constitutional rights of citizens by imposing the Manusmriti in India. We are urging Ambedkarites to oppose the UCC.”
The party is also eyeing Muslim votes. In the recent urban local body elections, the Congress performed better than the main Opposition, Samajwadi Party, in some seats because Muslim voters voted for it in Moradabad, Jhansi and Ayodhya.
Muslims, who voted overwhelmingly for the SP in the 2022 election, are widely believed to be annoyed with its president and former CM Akhilesh Yadav for being silent on their issues.
A Muslim youth, Syed Ashtar, told this reporter “What did the SP chief do for Azam Khan (SP leader) when he was in jail? Did he protest for his release? He did not leave his comfort zone while Muslims faced police crackdown during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) agitation.”
The Congress sees a silver lining in the community’s resentment against SP. State Congress organisation secretary Anil Yadav claimed that the “Congress is more sympathetic to Muslims than SP or any other party”.
“Priyanka Gandhi visited the homes of victims of the state-sponsored crackdown against Muslims and activists during the anti-CAA protest. Our party vocally opposed the remission of Bilquis Bano’s convicts,” he said.
Muslims comprise 19%–20% of UP’s population and dalits around 20%-21%. Muslims are generally loyal to SP and dalits are mostly divided between BSP and BJP.
“Through the Nukkad Sabhas, the Congress wants to convey that if dalits and Muslims vote for it in 2024, the BJP would be easily dethroned,” Yadav added.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Uttar Pradesh.
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