As elections are round the corner in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab—the states with significant dalit population—the Bharatiya Janata Party is going all out to woo the community. After addressing a rally organised by Buddhist monks in Uttar Pradesh, BJP chief Amit Shah addressed another function in Delhi to mark the anniversary of Saint Valmiki.
Shah told the gathering that the first five schemes of all the ministries of the Union government were aimed at the poor and the dalits. “The Modi government is working for the downtrodden, and when the PM asks banks to provide loans to dalits from Red Fort (a reference to his Independence Day speech), it gives a message of huge change,” Shah added.
Earlier, speaking during the Buddhist function in Kanpur on Friday, Shah had attacked Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party for “poor law and order situation” in the state and claimed that only the BJP could bring change. “Dalits are harassed when Samajwadi Party is in power and exploited when the BSP rules,” he said.
Behind this aggressive wooing of the community lies the sizable vote share it has. In Punjab, dalits are over 35 per cent, while in Uttar Pradesh, they are nearly 20 per cent. In UP, the community usually rallies behind Mayawati's BSP. However, the BJP hopes that if some castes or even the younger generations of them vote in favour of the party—as they did in 2014 elections—they will be able to stitch together a rainbow of castes.
Meanwhile, Mayawati, besides banking on the dalit community, is also aiming for the Muslim and upper caste votes to stay in the reckoning in the state.
The recent incidents of atrocities against the dalits by the self-proclaimed gau rakshaks have further alienated the community from the BJP. Party sources, however, claimed that the dalit consolidation against it may also have an advantage in the form of OBCs and other castes rallying behind the BJP. They explain this to inherent dissensions among different caste groups.
But, in this caste calculus, the saffron party doesn’t want to lose any opportunity to woo all castes.