In UP, parties scramble to get share of Dalit vote-bank ahead of polls

Less than a year before the UP polls, all the major political parties in the state staked a claim on Dalit icon BR Ambedkar’s legacy on his 125th birth anniversary on Thursday.

Ambedkar enjoys cult status among the 23%, largely Dalit SC/ST population in UP.

While BSP chief Mayawati targeted the Congress and the ruling Samajwadi Party for doing nothing for Dalits, she singled out the BJP for special attention, warning her party cadre to be wary of saffron designs.

“For a long time, Dalits were considered loyal to one party alone. First in the 2012 UP polls and then in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a deviation in their voting behaviour was witnessed. So the 2017 polls would be quite interesting,” said Lalji Prasad Nirmal, president of Lucknow’s Ambedkar Mahasabha.

PM Narendra Modi visited the Mahasabha in January to set the Dalit agenda in a state where the BJP — out of power since 2003 — is desperate to make a return.

At the Mahasabha campus, a tea stall was set up to showcase the almost negligible participation of Dalit community members in owning or running eateries and roadside tea and snack joints. “The community continues to be neglected. The idea is to increase its visibility, participation and acceptability. Whosoever does it or comes across as honest enough to do it would be able to win their vote,” said Nirmal.

Along with Governor Ram Naik, CM Akhilesh Yadav also visited the Mahasabha office on Thursday to garland Ambedkar’s statue. While the BJP rolled out its three-day Dalit outreach mission on Thursday, SP senior minister Shivpal Yadav also pitched his party as the true inheritor of Ambedkar’s legacy.

Not to be left behind, Congress, which has launched a Bhim Jyoti Yatra in the state to connect with Dalits, will also organise a big show in UP on April 17.

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