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New Delhi: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati set the ball rolling for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a rally in Meerut on Monday where she took on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

With thousands of BSP supporters assembled in Meerut from neighbouring Moradabad and Saharanpur, Mayawati launched the party’s campaign. The BSP chief said that the increase in incidents of violence against Dalits since the BJP came to power only goes on to show that the party is anti-Dalit.

“First there was the suicide case of Rohith Vemula. Then we had cow vigilantes beating up Dalits in Gujarat’s Una and recently violence against Dalits was perpetrated in Saharanpur’s Shabbirpur village," Mayawati said.

Speaking about her fight for the Dalit cause, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said that she had resigned from the Rajya Sabha on 18 July as she was not allowed to speak on the issue of anti-Dalit violence in Saharanpur.

“I followed all rules of Parliament and wanted to speak about the violence in Saharanpur. But my speech was cut short. All the members of the government opposed what I was saying. They didn’t let me speak and created ruckus in the House and I had to take this action," she said.

The party has decided to hold a public meeting on the 18th of every month, beginning September, to mark the date when Mayawati resigned from Parliament.

Aimed at mobilizing Dalit and Muslim voters in western Uttar Pradesh, considered a BSP stronghold, the rally also saw Mayawati reaching out to the other backward classes (OBC). “The OBC community has not received the real benefits of reservation in the country. This shows that the BJP is anti-reservation as well," said Mayawati.

Over the years, Mayawati’s loyal Dalit voter base and the non-Yadav OBCs have drifted towards the BJP, while she has been unable to consolidate the Muslim votes. With a scattered social base, the BSP suffered a rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and was subsequently reduced to 19 of 403 seats in the state assembly polls in February-March this year.

The launch of BSP’s campaign from western UP indicates Mayawati’s intention to reclaim what was once a BSP bastion along with the neighbouring area of Rohilkhand.

The BSP chief also targeted the BJP for alleged electronic voting machine (EVM) tampering in both the 2014 general elections and the 2017 state assembly elections.

“BJP won through wrong means in 2014 and repeated the same in 2017. The results of the election were announced on 11 March and our party was the first to raise the issue of EVM tampering. We have even approached the Supreme Court in this matter. The BJP might have won the previous Lok Sabha election but it got just 31% votes while 69% people didn’t vote for BJP," she said.

Analysts say that Mayawati needs to sustain her campaign against the BJP if she wishes to regain lost ground.

“Mayawati had raised the Una issue and the Rohith Vemula issue but it eventually died down. With her resignation from the Rajya Sabha, these rallies are the only medium to reach people. With an early start to her campaign, she seems to be focused on 2019 but only a sustained campaign can help revive BSP’s fortunes," said S.K. Dwivedi, a political analyst and professor of political science, Lucknow University.

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