Congress lines up ex-bureaucrats to win back dalit voters

With an aim to counter BSP chief Mayawati’s hold on dalit voters, Congress has lined up a team of former bureaucrats to woo back the community especially in four of the poll-bound states.

Pannalal Punia, Jesudasu Seelam and K raju, who is the latest to enter the group of ex-dalit IAS officers, are at the forefront of the effort to win back dalit voters.

Poll-bound Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have substantial chunk of dalit voters for which both the Congress and the BJP are vying.

While the Congress’ dalit vote in southern states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh seem to be in tact due to leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and Seelam, the party is losing its vote share among the dalits in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as it does not have a formidable leader of the community like Babu Jagjivan Ram.

Mayawati has lured away dalit voters from the Congress in UP, whereas Bihar has seen the votes split between Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U). The party has been relying on retired IAS officer Punia, a one time key aide to Mayawati during her tenure as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, to woo dalit voters.

Punia won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh as a Congress candidate. He was made the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, a post which enjoys a Cabinet rank.

Jesudasu Seelam, another former IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre and a dalit face of the Congress, was made the Minister of State for Finance in June. In 1983 he passed Indian Police Service (IPS) exam and the next year, the IAS exam. He served in various positions in Karnataka before taking voluntary retirement in 1999.

The latest addition to the team is K Raju, Special Chief Secretary in Andhra Pradesh until recently, who was handpicked by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi with an aim to win back dalit voters in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Raju has been trusted with the task of changing the top-down approach to appointing SC leaders in the party, wherein the top leadership choose the leader of the SC wing who in turn would make state-level appointments.

Rahul has asked Raju to identify dalit leaders through an election process, which the Gandhi scion had experimented in the Youth Congress.

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