Indicating a shift in its political strategy ahead of assembly elections in Punjab next year, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has decided to look beyond its core support base—Dalits—and reach out to people from other castes.

Punjab, from where BSP founder Kanshi Ram launched the party, has a sizeable Dalit population—32% as per Census 2011—and party chief Mayawati is keen on a good show because the Punjab polls will precede elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the party has a substantial stake. Mayawati is former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

For the Punjab assembly elections, the BSP’s door-to-door campaign, called Ghar Ghar Chalo, will be launched in May this year and seek to cover 29 million people across 550,000 households.

All the state leaders, including senior party leaders from the state assembly as well as those from the district level, will be part of the campaign.

“Punjab Bachao, BSP laao" (Save Punjab, elect BSP) is going to be the main slogan as well as the overall theme of the campaign," said the party’s state unit chief, Avtar Singh Karimpuri. “We want to appeal to people from all castes and religions to unite and vote for the BSP to bring about socio-economic change in Punjab."

The party is clear that the campaign is not an attempt to woo just Dalits but also those from other castes and communities.

“Are only Dalits getting affected by the drug problem? One must understand the importance of votes in a democracy. People, not just Dalits, need to vote to get out of trouble, and that is what we will explain to them," Karimpuri said, adding that the party is going to “urge people from different backgrounds" to support them in this election.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance is facing a 10-year anti-incumbency in Punjab.

The Congress party, led by former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are the two main rivals looking to upstage chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s government.

Key issues which the BSP wants to highlight in this campaign include the widespread sale and abuse of drugs and its effects on youth, as well as farmer suicides owing to crop failure.

The campaign will also talk about the state’s increasing debt burden.

To be sure, this is not the party’s first attempt to expand its social base.

As part of its election strategy, it has also decided that 40% of its organizational structure will be drawn from those other than the scheduled castes (SCs).

Analysts feel that the shifting loyalties of Dalit voters in Punjab is the reason behind the BSP reaching out to people from other castes and communities.

“Unlike UP, which is a more feudal society, the Dalits of Punjab are much more liberated. In the 2012 election, the Dalits had supported the SAD, while the Dalit vote went to the AAP in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. In 2017, the Dalits might continue supporting these two parties," said Ashutosh Kumar, a professor in the department of political science at Panjab University.

The AAP’s party symbol, the broom, has struck a chord with many of the Dalit voters in Punjab.

“Balmikis constitute most of the Dalit population here and, owing to their profession (most Balmikis are sweepers), the AAP’s symbol has resonated well with them, thus making it even more difficult for Mayawati to keep the party alive in Punjab with its vote share going down to less than 5% in the previous election," said Kumar.

The BSP will be contesting all the 117 assembly seats in the 2017 election, even though it has not been able to perform well in the previous assembly and parliamentary elections.

For instance, the party drew a blank in both the 2007 and 2012 Punjab assembly election, where it had contested 115 and 117 seats, respectively.

Similarly, it had to face a humiliating defeat as it could not win a single seat in general election in 2014.

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