UTTAR PRADESH: DALITS FORSAKE THE BJP
The Adityanath government’s feeble attempts to woo the Dalits only serve to alienate the community
When Yogi Adityanath decided the time had come to share a meal with a Dalit family, overcautious officials chose the home of Lekhpal Asharam, a lower caste state employee of Madhupur village in Pratapgarh district. Then trying to hush indignant Dalit voices in the village, they announced that the chief minister would in fact eat in the house of Asharam’s brother, Dayaram Saroj. But finally when the CM’s motorcade rolled into Madhupur on April 23, it was to Asharam’s home, while the officials present pretended it was the brother’s shanty. After the fiasco was over, an official of the CM’s office was at pains to assert that it did not matter who the owner was, for “the CM did have lunch in a Dalit household”.
The lunch-gone-bad controversy notwithstanding, there are evident signs the ruling BJP is losing the Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. Even the party’s national Scheduled Castes chief, Sanjay Paswan, concurs: “It’s true, the Dalit community has become more alienated since 2014.” He attributes this to a combination of mistakes by the saffron leadership and to Opposition propaganda. Paswan, however, believes UP’s Dalits will return to the saffron fold they embraced in Lok Sabha 2014. “We are trying to win back their trust,” he says.
The party is hoping the 20-day (April 14 to May 5) Gram Swaraj campaign, wherein BJP leaders including most state ministers reached out to remote Dalit villages in the state, will have repaired some of the damage. It was modelled much like Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s forays before the 2014 polls, but the BJP’s outreach seems to have boomeranged, leaving many senior leaders mired in controversy, quite like what followed Adityanath’s lunch date in Madhupur.
Like when the party’s Aligarh in-charge, Suresh Rana, went to Lohagarh village. Local BJP functionaries ensured a meal served at the Dalit Satish Jatav’s home was cooked by a hired caterer at the panchayat
bhavan. Rana later insisted that though he brought it from outside, the food was cooked by Dalits.
Retired Dalit police officer S.R. Darapuri feels the BJP leaders’ current antics are mere “eyewash” that only proves how Dalits are still seen as untouchables. “It does nothing to elevate our status, or empower Dalits socially,” he says.
Analysts say the saffron leadership is now all the more apprehensive about losing out on Dalit votes in 2019 after the twin debacles in Phulpur and Gorakhpur. The BJP lost both parliamentary bypolls with BSP chief Mayawati successfully transferring the party’s core Dalit support base to the Samajwadi Party.
Worryingly for the party, under Adityanath, the BJP is also witnessing disaffection amid its own Dalit leaders. On April 1, a huge gathering of the party’s Dalit supporters turned out at the Kanshiram Smriti Upvan in Lucknow to hear BJP Dalit MP Savitribai Phule rail against the state government. She alleged the state government was out to end Dalit quotas through privatisation.
Phule is not alone. Ashok Dohre, the BJP MP from Etawah, is angry at the harassment of Dalits following the Supreme Court judgment ‘diluting’ provisions of the SC-ST Act. Robertsganj MP C. Lal Kharwar and Nagina MP Yashwant Singh have also questioned the conduct of their government.
Suddenly, it’s not looking too good for the BJP vis-a-vis the Dalits, both on the ground, and within its own ranks.
Worryingly for the BJP, the party’s own Dalit legislators like Savitribai Phule are railing against the state government
COMMUNAL FEAST CM Yogi Adityanath in Madhupur village for his lunch-at-a-Dalitresidence showpiece