New Delhi: National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituent Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), led by former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, is entering the fray for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections. But unlike fellow ally from Bihar, the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) of Mukesh Sahni, it is in the field to strengthen the BJP’s hand as the party looks to seek re-election.
The plan, sources in the BJP said, is to draw the Dalits towards the party as the most prominent political vehicle of the community in UP — Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — loses ground.
Over the past few days, HAM leader Santosh Manjhi, Jitan Ram’s son and a minister in the Bihar government, as well as Ramdas Athawale of the Mumbai-based Republican Party of India (Athawale), have met the BJP leadership and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath and expressed their desire to contest the elections.
The party brass, sources in the BJP said, subsequently set a condition for the two parties — mobilise the Dalits in support of the BJP, and the party, if satisfied with the efforts, will account for them when seat-sharing discussions are held.
Dalits constitute an estimated 21.5 per cent of the state’s population, and are known to play a decisive role in western UP seats. Of the 403 UP assembly seats, 85 are reserved for Dalits.
The community was earlier seen as a captive vote bank of the BSP, but the party is now only believed to have a grip on Jatav Dalits after losing traction over the past two assembly elections.
With other parties also vying to enter the BSP’s space, the BJP fears the Bhim Army of Chandrashekhar Azad, a strengthening voice on Dalit rights, may find support among the community’s younger voters.
The NDA hasn’t had a prominent Dalit face since the demise of former Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), another Bihar-based party, in October last year. The LJP has since been a divided house and the leader the BJP is nurturing as Paswan’s heir, his brother Pashupati Kumar Paras, doesn’t have the same influence.
It is to fill this void that the BJP is counting on the Manjhis, who belong to the Mahadalit Musahar community, and Athawale, an Ambedkarite.
“The BJP is not averse to sharing a few seats with these parties. However, it is not only about seats. Both the parties are alliance partners in the NDA and it is their duty to help the BJP in the state,” a UP BJP leader said.
“The BJP has given representation to Dalits in power-sharing, and they know it is the BJP who is protecting their interests. Politics runs through give-and-take, and if Athawale and Manjhi want to help the BJP, it’s a welcome effort.”
A new playground
Speaking to ThePrint, Santosh Manjhi, who met Adityanath Monday, said he was in Lucknow to assess his party’s strength in Uttar Pradesh. The interaction with Adityanath was a “preliminary meeting”, he added.
“I have briefed Yogi ji about my party, its activities, and what we are doing in Bihar. We have not decided yet how many seats we will contest from. During the meeting of our leaders in Lucknow, we assessed our strength. The next level of talks will be held by our president, but we want to contest the election as the issues of Dalits are the same in both states.”
Santosh said the question of whether they will fight with the BJP or separately will be decided later. “But Yogi ji has heard our views and praised our work.”
While Manjhi is said to be on board with the BJP’s plan, a UP vice-president of the BJP said he may have other intentions.
“Manjhi has his feet in two boats. He is close to Nitish (Bihar CM Nitish Kumar) and he also calls Narendra Modi. It is not certain if he is acting on behalf of Nitish or if he really wants to support the BJP in UP.”
Athawale, who met Adityanath last week, later told the media in Lucknow that UP Dalits are not with Mayawati now but with the BJP.
He has announced a ‘Bahujan Samaj Kalyan Yatra’ from 26 September to 18 December that will culminate in a rally at Ambedkar Park, Lucknow, to be addressed by BJP president J.P. Nadda and Adityanath, besides Athawale himself.
The Union minister and MP is believed to have demanded 8-10 seats from the BJP in UP.
Another NDA ally looking to contest the UP elections is VIP’s Mukesh Sahni, also a Bihar minister. However, he is said to be miffed with Adityanath ever since his bid to install the statues of the late bandit-MP Phoolan Devi, a leader of the Nishad community, in UP on her death anniversary (25 July) was reportedly foiled.
UP Police not only seized the statues at Varanasi and Mirzapur, but didn’t allow Sahni to exit the Varanasi airport to hold a meeting. Adityanath also reportedly didn’t give him an appointment.
A BJP leader told ThePrint that since the party is in alliance with the Nishad Party, and doesn’t want a split in the community’s vote, “we are not inclined to extend an olive branch to Sahni”.
Sahni told the media last week that he is looking to contest 165 seats in UP.
The Dalit vote
Dalits in Uttar Pradesh are feeling some sort of disenchantment with the BSP due to Mayawati’s non-combative attitude on raising issues affecting the community, and the party’s seemingly growing interest in Hindutva.
In 2012, the BSP won only 15 of the 85 reserved seats and 27 per cent of the total votes cast in the state, while the Samajwadi Party (SP) got 58 of the reserved seats and 31.5 per cent of the votes.
In 2017, the BJP got 69 of the 85 reserved seats and a vote share of 39 per cent, while the SP got seven seats. The BSP only got two seats.
This has set off a battle for the Dalit vote in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due early next year.
The Samajwadi Party, which is aggressively pursuing Dalits in western UP, is launching a cycle yatra from 5 August that will cover 5 to 10 kilometres in every tehsil.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), with the support of Jat farmers peeved with the farm laws, is also banking on securing Dalit support in western UP. The RLD is starting a ‘Nyay Yatra’ from 5 August.
Azad, meanwhile, started a cycle yatra to mobilise Dalit votes last month.
The BJP has been making many efforts to attract the Dalit vote. In last month’s Cabinet reshuffle, the Modi government inducted three ministers from the UP non-Jatav Dalit community — Kaushal Kishore (Pasi by caste), S.P.S. Baghel (Gaderia-Dhangar), and Bhanu Pratap Verma (Kori).
Earlier, the BJP appointed Kanta Kardam, a Jatav Dalit, as party vice-president in UP, and Ashok Jatav as a minister in the Yogi cabinet, and sent Brij Lal, a former IPS officer and DGP during Mayawati’s tenure, to the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP has instructed its newly inducted OBC-Dalit MP-ministers from UP to launch a ‘Janashirwad Yatra’ in their respective districts from 16 August to consolidate the communities’ support for the party.
Talking about Dalit voters in UP, Prof Kamal Kumar of Lucknow University, however, said Mayawati remained the biggest force.
The Bhim Army, he added, will get support only in a particular constituency, not across the state, as their ground network is not as strong as the BSP’s. Across the state, he said, Mayawati is “seen by Dalits as a strong force to raise their issues”.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)