New Delhi: In a visible shift from its governance-based politics, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is set to kick off a Dalit outreach programme in the national capital Monday.
With eyes on next year’s assembly polls, the party will organise ‘Dalit bastis’ under the programme across the 70 constituencies of Delhi to address concerns of the community, senior AAP leaders told ThePrint.
Special emphasis will be laid on the reserved constituencies including Seemapuri, Gokalpur, Karol Bagh and Trilokpuri, among others
The decision comes after Delhi Chief Minister and AAP head Arvind Kejriwal expressed keenness at a review meeting held recently with Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam over starting the programme as soon as possible, said a senior leader who did not wish to be named.
A pilot project in this regard began around a fortnight ago when officials of the social welfare department and AAP leaders met members of the community to get their feedback.
The latest move seems to be a distant cry from just two years ago when Kejriwal sought the contest of elections “on the agenda of education n health rather than caste n religion (sic)”.
I wish a time comes when elections are fought on the agenda of education n health rather than caste n religion https://t.co/vhGEb7Q2pK
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) October 7, 2017
Also read: How Kejriwal’s AAP moved from ‘politics of change’ to counting on religion to win voters
Looking to maximise impact under the outreach programme, groups of three party volunteers from SC/ST background will address at least two gatherings on a daily basis until the end of November, said sources in the party.
The party will also be seeking suggestions on schemes that can be introduced for Dalits in the time to come, besides gathering data on all that the Congress and the BJP did for the community ever since the assembly was created for Delhi.
As part of the programme, party volunteers will also shed light on the schemes for the community already introduced by the AAP government in Delhi, including the Jai Bhim Mukhyamantri Pratibha Vikas Yojana.
Launched last year, the scheme aimed to provide free coaching to SC/ST students to prepare for examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board, Staff Selection Commission, Railway Recruitment Board, and others.
On 3 September, the Delhi cabinet also gave its nod to include students of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and general category under the scheme, and to increase the financial assistance from Rs 40,000 to Rs 1 lakh for coaching of competitive examinations.
Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam said the online portal for the scheme helps reduce the time and effort to verify documents, like income and caste certificates. The government is also exploring direct transfer of stipend into the bank accounts of students through Public Financial Management System, and monitoring students’ biometric attendance.
The ministry has also invited applications to check possibilities for enrolement of particular students under the scheme by empanelled coaching institutes.
The Ambedkar connect
As part of the outreach programme, the social welfare ministry has also recommended printing a tiny booklet on economist and social reformer B.R. Ambedkar.
“Based on feedback received from our interaction with members of the community, we felt there is a need to promote his preaching among those he campaigned for — the Dalits — and hence we have recommended a separate booklet comprising of three chapters on Ambedkar and his life for classes 6, 7 and 8 as part of the Deshbhakti curriculum,” Gautam told ThePrint.
The Arvind Kejriwal government plans to introduce the ‘Deshbhakti Curriculum’ in government schools from next year to instill a sense of patriotism in students.
‘Elections are around the corner’
The AAP government’s Dalit outreach is only the next logical step in its ‘support’ for the community.
In August, when Dalits staged protests over the court-ordered demolition of a Sant Ravidas temple in Tughlakabad in a forested Delhi area, the AAP joined the agitators in questioning the action led by the Delhi Development Authority, which functions under the central government.
Political analyst Apoorvanand feels the move is nothing new and the party never kept itself away from caste issues.
“Be it selection of candidates or the issues they would discuss during elections, caste did feature. Former AAP member Ashutosh is a case in example as he was asked to use his surname Gupta for votes,” said Apoorvanand.
Given the centrality of caste to the Indian democracy, none of the political parties are caste-neutral. If there are Dalit voters, the AAP is behaving just like the BJP by organising these bastis, said the analyst.
Congress’s Udit Raj, a Dalit leader himself, said this programme is a way to overcompensate for the manifesto promises the AAP failed to keep in all these years.
“Now that elections are around the corner, this was going to happen,” Raj told ThePrint.
However, he welcomed the move to include Ambedkar as part of school curriculum.
Also read: To win Delhi polls, AAP is taking tips from Modi, Amarinder, Nitish & Jagan campaigns