Home >Politics >Policy >BJP’s Dayashankar Singh setback complicates plan to woo Dalit votes in UP

New Delhi: Will this be the point when Mayawati consolidates the Dalit vote behind her? While that remains to be seen, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) insiders are certain that the unsavoury episode involving former senior Uttar Pradesh unit leader Dayashankar Singh will undermine the party’s carefully crafted plan to woo Dalits—a quarter of the state’s electorate.

“The biggest concern for the BJP is that it wanted to contest Uttar Pradesh election on the basis of development and work done by the National Democratic Alliance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But after the comment, which led to protest by the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), caste differences will play a crucial role in the election and it is expected that the Dalits will stand in support of the BSP," a senior BJP leader said.

Part of the reason for the BJP’s spectacular performance in the 2014 general election, when it won 73 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh, was its ability to garner the support of a coalition of voters, which included Dalits.

To be sure, the elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly are still nine months away and the fault lines are prone to shift. But, at the least, Singh’s remarks against Mayawati has made the task of the BJP that much more difficult.

On the other hand, the incident has opened up an opportunity for Mayawati—who is facing mutiny within the BSP after senior leaders Swami Prasad Maurya and R.K. Chaudhary quit the party accusing the BSP chief of selling election tickets.

BSP supporters on Thursday held a protest rally in Lucknow against the derogatory remarks made against Mayawati by Singh. Led by Naseemuddin Siddiqui, senior BSP leader and leader of the opposition in the state legislative council, the protesters gathered around the statue of B.R. Ambedkar in Lucknow’s Hazratganj, and demanded Singh’s arrest.

The protest continued for around five hours even as the police carried out raids in Lucknow and Ballia as part of efforts to trace Singh, who has been expelled from BJP for six years. BSP leaders have also lodged a first information report (FIR) police against Singh.

The BJP would ideally want to win the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls—to not only maintain the momentum it generated in 2014 but also bury the ghosts of its humiliating defeat in the Bihar assembly elections. It was in power in the state in 2002, when Union home minister Rajnath Singh was the chief minister.

Some BJP leaders worry that the fallout of the Dayashankar Singh episode may even manifest in the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Gujarat.

The NDA has worked for the empowerment of dalits through its flagship programmes, such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana and Stand Up India. Apart from these, BJP president Amit Shah reached out to dalits during the Simhasth Kumbh in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, in May.

“Development as a message transcends caste and religious divide. It is important for the BJP to reach out to a larger section of people across the country and not just Uttar Pradesh. But the comment of Dayashankar Singh will only help other political parties corner BJP," the BJP leader, who did not want to be identified, said.

The incident is also expected to have a fallout on the ongoing Samrastha (social harmony) campaign of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to end differences between different castes in the country. The RSS is the ideological parent of the BJP.

Meanwhile, the Parliament continued to debate the issue of atrocities against Dalits for the second consecutive day—this time in the Rajya Sabha. All political parties condemned the recent violence against Dalits in Gujarat and the derogatory comments made against Mayawati.

“The BJP should use the opportunity to introspect why such developments are happening. This incident should not be seen in isolation: first a dalit student, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide in Hyderabad; then dalits were attacked in Gujarat; and now comments made against Mayawati. BJP is losing the perception battle, and it needs to act before a crucial section of society turns against the party," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with Centre for Study of Developing Societies.

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