The ruling BJP has gone all out to woo the Dalit voters in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghosi for the September 5 bypoll, looking to take advantage of the absence of the Mayawati-led BSP from the fray. To reach out to Dalits during its campaign, the BJP has even invoked the 1995 state guest house incident when the Samajwadi Party (SP) activists had allegedly tried to assault Mayawati.
Campaigning for BJP candidate Dara Singh Chauhan in Ghosi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in an apparent bid to express sympathy for Mayawati, told a rally on Saturday, “When SP got the opportunity, it did state guest house kaand (incident).”
During his speech, Adityanath attacked the Opposition parties, the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP and the Congress, but did not take aim at Mayawati. In the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has been refraining from targeting Mayawati in its public meetings in the state as it feels that any criticism of BSP supremo may damage it efforts to woo Dalits.
The infamous guest house incident had occurred in June 1995 when the SP activists had allegedly made a bid to attack Mayawati at the Lucknow VVIP Guesthouse after she had withdrawn support to the then Mulayam Singh Yadav-led coalition government. Mayawati had locked the door of her guesthouse room from inside while the SP activists had gathered outside. The BJP leaders had also claimed that they had rescued her. The incident had set off resentment against the SP among Dalits and various non-Yadav OBC communities in the state.
Addressing the rally, Adityanath also targeted the previous Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government for allegedly changing the names of a Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar medical college and a Kanshi Ram university.
During her regime Mayawati had built in Lucknow several memorials and parks named after Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, the BSP founder, and some other social reformers. Making an oblique reference to it to attack the SP which was the principal Opposition during the Mayawati rule, the CM said Akhilesh had “insulted” great personalities by declaring then that after coming to power he will demolish these memorials to open marriage halls.
“Notably, BJP too had then criticised BSP government for spending public money on statues of elephants in these memorials and parks. But on Saturday it took the opportunity to target SP on the same issue. It shows that BJP is working to get votes of Dalits and it is soft on BSP leadership,” said a UP BJP leader.
BJP spokesperson Jugal Kishore, who campaigned among Dalits in Ghosi, said, “There are over 90,000 Jatav Dalit votes in Ghosi. Over 70 per cent Dalits are going to vote for BJP candidate. SP is trying to get votes of the remaining 30 per cent by using unfair means.” Mayawati is from the Jatav community. There is a total of about 4.30 lakh voters in Ghosi.
On the BJP’s bid to invoke the state guest house incident, Kishore said, “We raise issue of state guest house incident because BJP is biggest well-wisher of Dalits. We are telling people that BJP had protected life of Mayawati, a Dalit woman, in that incident and supported BSP to form her government. This is second term of BJP government in the state but our government did not change the name of any district or institution named by Mayawati government.”
A BJP leader said a key reason for the party to intensify its attempts to garner support of Dalits in UP ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections was the results of the state Assembly polls in 2022 in which its performance in the Scheduled Castes (SCs)-reserved seats had declined as compared to the 2017 polls.
Of the state’s total 403 Assembly seats, two seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (STs) — Obra and Duddhi — which were both won by the BJP in the 2022 and 2017 polls.
In the 2017 polls, of the 84 SCs-reserved seats, the BJP had won 69 seats, the SP seven and BSP just two. The Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) had won three such seats, Apna Dal (Sonelal) two, while one seat was won by an Independent candidate. Both the SBSP and Apna Dal (S) were the BJP’s allies in the 2017 elections, taking the BJP-led alliance’s tally in SCs seats to 74 seats.
However, in the 2022 elections, the BJP-led alliance could collectively win 63 SCs seats, with the BJP itself winning 58 seats — 11 less than its 2017 tally. In contrast, the SP and its allies improved their performance in these seats winning altogether 20 seats, with the SP itself bagging 16 seats — 9 more than its 2017 figure.
For the BJP, stepping up its Dalit outreach is also important because the SP too has been working to woo the community. On March 15 this year, the SP had celebrated the birth anniversary of Kanshi Ram, recognising his contribution to the “Dalit andolan” and social reforms. Akhilesh had then charged that the BSP was not following the path shown by Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram.
Later, the SP celebrated the birth anniversary of Ambedkar on April 14 on a grand scale at the party offices in all the districts across the state. Seeking to reach out to Dalits, the SP gave a seat to veteran party MLA Awadhesh Prasad, a Dalit (Pasi) leader, on the dais next to Akhilesh during the party’s national executive meeting in Kolkata earlier this year.
The Ghosi bypoll is a straight fight between Chouhan and SP candidate Sudhakar Singh who is being backed by the Congress. Interestingly, Chauhan won this seat in the 2022 polls on the SP ticket. He quit the SP to join the BJP in July this year, which necessitated the bypoll.