Hyderabad: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Telangana plans to reach out to Dalits in a big way as part of its strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

The BJP is banking on various outreach programmes to draw Dalit votes and help the party gain a foothold in the state, while at the same time weakening the Congress, which is considered to have a strong Dalit vote bank in Telangana.

This comes against the backdrop of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) aiming to use community-specific programmes to draw into its fold backward class (BC) voters, who account for about 50% of the state’s population.

“Our leaders are going to Dalit households across the state and in Hyderabad to reach out to the community. We have leaders visiting all 19 Scheduled Caste (SC) constituencies in Telangana as part of our plan, which includes conducting more ‘Dalit Adalats’ (the programme was started a few months ago) across the state to find out about their problems," said BJP member of the legislative council (MLC) Ram Chander Rao.

The MLC, along with BJP minister for labour and employment Bandara Dattatreya and two others, was booked by the police under the SC/ST Atrocities Act for the suicide of University of Hyderabad (UoH) research scholar Rohith Vemula on 17 January 2016.

Rao, however, said that the case is being used to mould “public perception" against the BJP because they supported the party during the 2014 state and general elections.

Last week, BJP national president Amit Shah also visited Hyderabad and reviewed the state unit’s progress. He held a meeting with the BJP’s core committee members and also wanted the party to further concentrate on getting support from Dalits, said Rao. “He is happy with our party’s activities," Rao told Mint.

The BJP MLC added that the party has identified about 60 strong candidates for the 119 assembly seats in the state. At present, the BJP has just five MLAs in the legislative house and one MP. The TRS, which had won 63 seats in 2014, now has over 90 due to defections from various opposition parties.

“We are already prepared to take on the TRS and the BJP as well. The Congress has undertaken Leadership Development Mission in reserved Constituencies (LDMRC) and all 31 SC/ST seats in Telangana will be won by the party," said M. Krishank, spokesperson, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee.

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