Lucknow: The BJP’s alliance partner at the Centre, the Republican Party of India (Athawale) or RPI(A), is seeking a share of seats in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2022 assembly elections in the state.
It marks a fresh scramble for the Dalit vote in the state in the wake of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati staying away from the limelight.
Union Minister and RPI(A) chief Ramdas Athawale met UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath last Saturday, 27 February, to make a pitch for a tie-up in the state.
Athawale told ThePrint that he has sought 8 to 10 seats in Uttar Pradesh, adding that arrangement will benefit both parties.
“Including RPI(A) in the UP alliance will not only provide BJP a Dalit mascot but it will also prevent Dalit voters from joining the opposition ranks,” Athawale said.
He even warned that if the BJP does not allocate a respectable number of seats to his party then the RPI(A) would contest on its own in 50 Dalit-dominated constituencies, “which will surely harm electoral prospects of the BJP”.
Sources associated with RPI(A), however, said that the threat is Athawale’s “own unique style to present his views, due to which he always remains in the limelight”.
The source, however, added that the party is serious about contesting the Dalit-dominated seats of UP.
Due to Mayawati’s lack of political activity, Dalits are looking for a better alternative and RPI(A) can easily fill this void, the source said.
The UP BJP, for now, is non-committal.
“The high command has to decide about any alliance in the state,” UP BJP spokesperson Naveen Srivastava said. “Athawale’s party is our alliance partner in the Centre and we have huge respect for his commitment to the BJP but for now, we have to wait a little bit.
“We have accommodated smaller parties (Apna Dal, SBSP & Nishad party) in the 2017 & 2019 elections, and we can adjust other smaller forces also,” he added.
RPI(A) to hold sammelan in Gorakhpur
With the perception growing that Mayawati is taking a backseat, the RPI(A) is among the parties eyeing the Dalit vote in the state.
An RPI(A) office-bearer said the party will organise a Karyakarta Sammelan in Gorakhpur in the middle of this month that Athawale will attend. This will be Athawale’s fourth visit to UP in the last six months.
The RPI(A) office-bearer said the party is looking to have its own unit in the state. According to him, the party has 18 mandals (divisions) in UP, of which it has named in-charges for 16 mandals.
“By April, we will have our own units in every district and preparations are also going on to hold a large state-level programme,” the office-bearer said. “We want to show our real strength to the BJP. We also have a large following in UP and now we want to unite them. At a time, when the Dalit vote is slipping away from behenji’s (Mayawati) grasp, we are trying to pull them into our own camp.”
The RPI(A)’s Uttar Pradesh president Pawan Gupta said the undivided party had a presence in UP. Athawale broke away from the RPI to form the RPI(A) in 1999.
“We had two ministers and 19 MLAs in UP when the Chaudhary Charan Singh government was in power in the 1970s,” Gupta said. “Our senior leader D.P. Maurya left the party and joined the Congress with all our MLAs. Thus our party collapsed here. Later Kanshi Ram emerged as the Dalit face of UP politics.
“Now Mayawati has become less active here and so it’s a good opportunity for us to strengthen our organisation here,” Gupta added. “We contested in 60 seats in 2012 and around a dozen seats in 2017 but did not win anywhere. This time we are trying for an alliance with the BJP. We have got positive signals from them.”
The Dalit vote-bank
In UP, Dalits account for around 21.5 per cent of the population and play a decisive role in several seats of Western Uttar Pradesh. There are as many as 85 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC).
While Dalits have been considered the captive base of the BSP, it has not been the case in the last two assembly elections.
In the 2012 assembly polls, the Samajwadi Party (SP) had managed to win 58 of these 85 reserved seats by securing 31.5 per cent of the votes while the BSP won merely 15 seats with 27.5 per cent of the votes. At the same time, the BJP had won just three of these seats with a 14.4 per cent vote-share.
In the 2017 polls, however, the BJP secured 69 of these 85 reserved seats with a 39.8 per cent vote-share.
The SP secured seven seats and 19.3 per cent of the votes while the BSP managed to win just two of these seats.
With assembly due in 2022, all major political parties in UP are once again eyeing the crucial Dalit vote-bank.
While SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been visiting Ravidas temples in the state, the AIMIM chief Asaddudin Owaisi and rising Dalit leader and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad have also started looking to capture this political space in UP.
The Bhim Army Chief has even met Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party president Om Prakash Rajbhar twice, sparking speculation of a possible OBC-Dalit anti-BJP front, though there has been no sort of formal announcement.
Azad had recently told ThePrint that his party, Azad Samaj Party, is yet to decide on an alliance though it has decided to contest the 2022 assembly elections.
Sources associated with Azad’s party have told ThePrint that it is holding discussions with the SP as well as the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which has got a new lease of life following the farmer protests in western UP.
‘Dalits could end up confused’
Experts say that if the current scenario persists, it could end up very confusing for Dalits.
“Their natural inclination to vote for the BSP has gone skewed in recent times,” said Prof. Kaviraj of the Political Science department in Lucknow University. “Chandrashekhar’s party is not too strong at the ground level for now and they cannot trust Athawale’s party so soon. But if the RPI(A) contests with the BJP then the alliance can get some votes here.
“The SP and Congress are also looking to lure Dalit voters. Under these circumstances, Dalit voters might get confused this time,” he added.
Professor Rajendra Kumar Pandey of Chaudhary Charan University of Meerut says that BJP still hasn’t lost all support in western UP.
“It’s true that due to Mayawati not appearing to be active enough, other parties are harbouring hopes to make a dent in the Dalit vote-bank,” he said. “In such a situation, every party is trying hard.”