Wooing the Dalit Voters

While Prime Minister Naren-dra Modi’s attack on Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao occupied headlines during his recent visit to Telangana, a low-key but high-impact meeting may have set the ball rolling on Bharatiya Janata Party’s Dalit outreach in the poll-bound state.

The BJP made its first move to get the Madiga community–belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs)–on its side when Prime Minister Narendra Modi granted the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti founder-president Manda Krishna Madiga an audience during his recent visit.

While Modi met him to enlist the Madigas’ support, the community leader exhorted him to take steps to categorise SCs and to implement reservations for them.

According to Manda Krishna Madiga, in the absence of caste-wise reservations among the SCs in proportion to the population, the Mala community was walking away with the lion’s share of the benefits, leaving the Madigas, Rellis, and others high and dry.

In fact, the issue has driven a wedge between the Madigas and the Malas.

It may be noted that the decision to implement internal reservation for SC communities was cited as one of the reasons for BJP’s poll debacle in the recently-held Karnataka Assembly elections. Given the BJP’s bitter experience, the topic continues to be a contentious one for any party.

In Telangana, according to the 2011 census, the SC population was 54, 32,680, of whom Madigas comprised 32,33,642 and Malas accounted for 15,27,143.

As no census has been done afterwards, the Telangana government did a comprehensive family survey in 2014, which put the Dalits’ population at 75 lakh, which is about 18 percent of the total population of the state.

In fact, all the major political parties in Telangana are eyeing a larger share of the Dalit pie in the run-up to the Assembly elections in December.

As many as 19 seats in the state Assembly are reserved for SCs and 12 for STs, while three Lok Sabha seats are for SCs and two are for STs. The total number of Assembly seats is 119 and that of the Lok Sabha in the state is 17.

As there seemed to be an imperceptible but unmistakable shift of the Dalits towards the Congress and the BJP and ruling BRS had initiated several measures to plug the leak.

As there was no party to challenge the BRS till the last two years, KCR had not thought much about the need to woo the Dalits. But over time, the BJP began gaining ground, which worked as a wake-up call for him.

Sensing the lurking danger, he immediately hastened the construction of a 125-ft tall statue of BR Ambedkar and inaugurated it on his 132nd birth anniversary on 14 April, amid much fanfare.

Earlier, in a preemptive move aimed at the Dalit voters, he had named the new Telangana Secretariat, which was still under construction, after Dr BR Ambedkar.

Now, after the rise of Congress in Karnataka, the fortunes of the grand old party too seem to have improved, and Dalits seem to be looking at it with growing interest.


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Vol 56, No. 5, Jul 30 - Aug 5, 2023