New Delhi: In a bid to regain its support among Dalits, a key electoral constituency, in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is planning a major outreach.

To begin with, the Congress, for the first time, is in the process of specifically forming booth -level committees for scheduled caste (SC), or Dalits, in order to win their confidence.

The party is also proposing to host programmes like a Dalit Conclave in Lucknow on Thursday which will be attended by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

It also launched the second phase of Bhim Jyoti Yatra, which aims to cover every district in the state and is scheduled to end on 14 April, the birth anniversary of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar.

The Congress has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh since 1989 and has seen a steady erosion of its support base in the state. Revival of electoral fortunes in Uttar Pradesh is key to the party’s comeback plans for northern India.

In the upcoming state assembly elections next year, the party is pitted against the ruling Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, which is traditionally supported by Dalits.

“Like the booth committees of the party, we are focusing on making sub-units of our SC wing from district level, to nyaya panchayats, down to the booth-level committees. Eventually, these would work in coordination with party’s respective booth committees. But the idea is to make sure that Dalit representatives are there in smaller units of the party," said a senior leader of the party who is closely associated with the party’s state unit.

According to 2012 data from the Election Commission (EC), there are 133,879 polling stations averaging 952 electors per polling station across 403 assembly constituencies in Uttar Pradesh.

The Bhim Jyoti Yatra is a similar exercise wherein local leaders are going to visit all the 75 districts in the state, hold three to four meetings and dwell on Ambedkar’s message.

The first phase of the yatra was launched last August and covered 19 districts. The second phase, launched earlier this month, will cover 14 districts. Both the yatra and the Dalit Conclave, which will hold discussions on Dalit issues, are part of the Congress’s celebration of the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar.

Another party leader from the state said that the party’s state unit has started screening candidates for the assembly elections in 2017.

“A special focus in it is also on the reserved seats where we will be looking at finding probable candidates who can contest elections for the party. This will help increase the party’s reach among the Dalit community in the state," the second leader said.

At present, 85 of the 403 assembly constituencies in the state are reserved for SC candidates.

“Dalits and Muslims were the original supporters of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. With Mayawati’s rise, the Dalit voters went to the BSP and Muslim voters went to SP. All these steps are being taken by the Congress keeping 2017 assembly elections in mind. Indeed, if the Congress party wants to revive itself in Uttar Pradesh, it has to focus on Dalit voters," said S.K. Dwivedi, a political analyst and professor of political science, Lucknow University. According to Dwivedi, all political parties are wooing Dalit voters.

“How much each of them, specially the Congress, benefits from it is too early to say right now," he said

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