Shocked by its dismal performance in Karnataka, the Congress is reworking its Dalit strategy and could factor in the possibility of an understanding with the BSP as it gears up for the next round of Assembly elections this year due in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Improving upon its previous performance in the 33 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, the BJP has this time won 16, followed by Congress with 12 and JD (S), 5. There is a thinking in the Congress that efforts by the party to reach out to the Left Dalits (somewhat like Mahadalits in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) in Karnataka did not yield the desired results and Mayawati’s alliance with H D Deve Gowda’s JD (S) further confused Dalit voters.
In 2013, out of 33 reserved seats, the Congress had won 17, BJP seven and JD (S) nine.
Scheduled Castes have 23% votes in Karnataka. The party feels JD (S)-BSP alliance did corner a substantial Dalit vote away from it, besides the BJP has made inroads into Dalit votes in Hyderabad Karnataka, a region where the BJP doubled its seats to 12 from six in 2013, while the Congress was down by 10 seats.
There is a view in the Congress that an understanding with Mayawati will ensure that there is no split in Dalit votes in the upcoming Assembly polls. In Madhya Pradesh, Dalits are in sizeable numbers, particularly in the Bundelkhand region.
In Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress hopes to cash in on the 15-year-long anti-incumbency factor against BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BSP's presence or absence could tilt the scale in a number of seats. The Congress has won four of the last five bypolls in the state. The BSP had not fielded any candidate in these seats. “The BSP could be key in our scheme of things in Madhya Pradesh,” a Congress leader said.
In 2013 Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, the BSP had won around 6.3% votes, which could make a substantial difference for the Congress, which had won around 36.4% votes on its own. The BJP had got around 45% votes.
In Rajasthan, where Dalits form around 17% of the electorate, an understanding with the BSP would help the Congress counter BJP’s move to woo Dalits.
In Chhattisgarh, where the Congress lost power to the BJP with a whisker of 0.75% vote margin in a direct contest in 2013 Assembly polls, the problem could be bigger with the entry of Congress rebel Ajit Jogi and his party, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh.
And herein lies the significance of the 12% votes of Scheduled Castes, who traditionally supported the Congress but has been aggressively wooed by the BJP in recent times. A tie-up with Mayawati could help the Congress, it is felt.