Dalit Vote Matters

It is Uttar Pradesh (UP) where the fate of Indian Parliament is decided. The party that controls UP is in a position to control New Delhi. The 2024 general elections are a year away, and political engineering is at its peak in Uttar Pradesh. The darling of the moment is the Dalit. Every political party wants the Dalit on its side. The Dalit vote is so wanted during election time because it is 20 percent of UP’s total population of almost 200 million. The Dalit is also called ‘untouchable’ and who has been sidelined to the lowest rung of the social ladder in a society that has planted the Brahmin as the superior most caste. All political parties want the Dalit vote but not the Dalit in the home or office. In other words social stigma continues to haunt the society at large.

Despite being the majority population, Dalits and people of other backward castes have been excluded from the fold of mainstream Hinduism. Very few Dalits hold top positions in public life in the country even today. For several thousand years they have been deprived of opportunities that could add more dignity to their life. For the same reason and at different times in history, many Dalits have gravitated towards other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. The Hindutva brigade is trying its best to stop conversion. But it is difficult unless there is positive approach towards caste annihilation.

Ever since Independence in 1947, the Congress had enjoyed almost uninterrupted power in UP. The Congress remains a pan national party where workers come from different walks of life. However, those in power within the party invariably belong to upper castes. The lack of performance by the Congress eventually led to its downfall in UP in the 1990s. Thanks to provisions in the Indian Constitution, a growing awareness of Dalit rights was able to challenge the privileges enjoyed by Congressmen. Congress party got totally isolated from Dalit and Muslim communities. Today they depend on some regional parties to make their existential presence in UP.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was founded by Kanshiram in 1984 and later led by Mayawati. The founder of the Samajwadi Party (SP) is Mulayam Singh Yadav. The BSP was born to favour the interest of the Dalits while the backward castes and minority groups formed the base of the SP. Together the Dalits and the other backward castes like the Yadavs are half the population of UP. Add to this the vote of 20 percent Muslims and the coalition is unbeatable in numerical terms at least. However, the reality on the ground is that Dalits, other backward castes and Muslims are not united and they do not vote en bloc.

For the same reason it is unlikely that the different political parties opposing the ruling party in UP will ever come together. Although elections have been fought in the past in partnership with each other, there is little love lost between the Congress, BSP and the SP. This is because the SP hates the Congress, the BSP hates both the Congress and the SP, and the Congress seems to have no clue as to who it hates or loves in UP any more.

The result is that the poor of the state including Dalits remain vulnerable to communal mobilisation by politicians. Communalisation Of UP’s Politics The ‘lower castes’ in UP crave social acceptance and economic improvement in their life. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stepped in with the promise to provide to the Dalit what its own leaders did not deliver. To win power in UP, the BJP realised that it could not succeed with the support of only the upper caste. It needed the vote, if not the company of the majority population of Dalits and other backward castes. So they are trying to woo Dalits, by making frequent overtures to their icons, particularly Ambedkar. They are lionising Ambedkar every now and then with an eye on monopolising Dalit vote which matters in UP. And what matters in UP also matters in New Delhi.


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Vol 55, No. 32, Feb 5 - 11, 2023