In UP, dalit politics takes ugly turn

Mayawati knows that Congress made Punia the chairman of the NCSC only with an eye on the dalit vote bank in the state and Punia has been doing everything at his command to wean away dalits from the BSP fold.

Punia, a Lok Sabha member from the dalit dominated Barabanki constituency, has made UP his base and has been taking up the cases of atrocities on the members of the scheduled and other backward castes from the day he assumed charge.

Punia’s visits to dalit families, who have been victims of attack of persecution at the hands of the administration, has been giving sleepless nights to Mayawati. The recent spurt in cases of atrocities on dalits has come as a boon for Punia.

State’s failure

Whether it is the Sheelu rape case in Banda, where a BSP legislator allegedly raped a minor and got her arrested on trumped up charges, or rape and murder of a dalit girl in Lucknow, Punia was the first to reach their families. He not only promised inquiries but also publicly chided the state government for failing to ensure protection to dalits.

Punia has launched a nationwide dalit awareness campaign under which a series of divisional level meetings of members of dalit community are being held where they are being made aware of their rights and welfare programmes for them. A book containing the vacant positions in government jobs under reserved category and statistics on cases of atrocities on dalits would also be distributed at the meetings.

The last of the divisional level meeting is slated at Sitapur to be followed by a massive meet in Lucknow. “The dalits have begun to understand that they are not getting any benefit in the present dispensation. They cannot be fooled any longer,” Punia says.
Mayawati’s dislike for Punia was evident, when the state government changed the rules of protocol making it optional for the government to accord facilities to visiting central ministers. Since Punia enjoyed the status of a central minister, the state government would have been bound to extend him the facilities accorded to any visiting central minister.

In an apparent bid to tame Punia, the Mayawati government has also ordered re-opening of some old cases pertaining to sanctioning of loans to some industrialists from the Pradeshik Investments and Industrial Corporation (PICUP) while Punia was its managing director in 1992.

According to government officials some of the firms, which have been given loans by PICUP, had defaulted in repayments. Incidentally at least two such inquiries in the past into the matter did not find any evidence against Punia. “It’s a desperate bid to implicate me in the cases,” Punia said referring to the probe.

The state government has instructed its officials not to cooperate with Punia and that is why he failed to elicit any response from them when he expressed his desire to meet them to discuss the dalit atrocities cases.

Punia was Mayawati’s principal secretary and a co-accused in the Rs 176 crore Taj Heritage Corridor Scam case. He later joined Congress and contested the 2007 assembly polls but lost narrowly.

He, however, had the last laugh when he trounced the BSP nominee in 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Barabanki despite all efforts by Mayawati to ensure his defeat.

The battle for dalit votes is expected to intensify in the days to come as it is they who would decide whether Mayawati would have a second innings in UP or not.

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