Congress, BSP tug-of-war over Dalit votes continues

Cong leaders hopeful of faring better in the 85 reserved seats

The Congress, in the last two decades, has been fighting its political rivals in Uttar Pradesh tooth and nail, to get back at the helm of affairs in the state.

However, the coveted seat of power has eluded the party, largely because of a dent in its popularity with the Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins, thanks to contentious issues like the Mandal Commission and the Ayodhya controversy.

To top it, the emergence of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has significantly contributed to its poll fortunes turning topsy turvy. In the last Assembly  elections, the party won only 22 of the 403 seats, with the party leaders opining that the 85 reserved assembly constituencies  would be the deciding factor in the ensuing polls.

However, party members are confident of carving a dent in BSP’s vote bank this time, which is, in any ways, important for it to form a government or at least, become a major stakeholder in a coalition government.

The party, however, had its share of halcyon days in UP politics. In the 1985 Assembly polls, the Congress had 70 reserved seats to its credit, but, the count came down drastically over the years with the Congress securing only seven seats in the 2007 polls. On the other hand, BSP had 61 reserved seats to its credit in the 2007 elections.

The performance improved in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, in which the Congress won two reserved seats at Barabanki and Baharaich.  It also registered victories at some general constituencies with a sizeable reserved category voters.

The party banks on the Chairman of National Commission of Scheduled Caste (NCSC) and Mayawati’s bete noire P L Punia, for a turn around. Punia had emerged victorious from Barabanki has been bestowed with the task of mobilising the Dalits towards the Congress.

Punia seems to have taken up the onus of winning Dalit favour seriously. Since assuming charge at the NCSC, he has made numerous tours of the Dalit-dominated regions in the state, apart from taking up cases of atrocities on the scheduled caste members, which, inadvertently, angered Mayawati. However, a surge in atrocities against the Dalits during Mayawati’s tenure seems to have worked in his favour.

Punia’s proactive approach was evident, with him reaching the families of those wronged. He not only assured the families of prompt inquiries, but also came down heavily upon the government for safeguarding the Dalits.

Punia is being supported by the Congress National Secretary Ashok Tanwar, who has been equally proactive in holding meetings in the Dalit bastions to win their favour.

“We are in a much better position this time,'' Punia said,  adding that the “Dalits got a raw deal during the Mayawati regime.”

According to Congress leaders, Dalits are unhappy with the Mayawati-government failing to deliver on its promises. BSPs slogan ‘sarvajan hitay, sarvajan sukhay’ (for the benefit and interest of all) and its bid to appease the Brahmins who had substantially contributed to the party’s victory in the 2007 elections, have alienated its trusted Dalit vote bank partially, experts opine.

That the Congress is going overboard to win back the Dalits is evident from Rahul Gandhi’s election rallies in the state, who made it a point to mention his visits to Dalit households in every rally.
“Party central leadership is supervising this mission directly,” Congress leaders said. The party has fielded Dalit nominees from four general seats as well.

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