New Delhi: During the 2017 UP assembly elections and in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP secured massive victories by creating a social alliance of upper castes, non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs.
The BJP has now decided to go a step further for the 2022 assembly polls, and is looking to bolster its prospects by wooing Jatavs, the community that Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati belongs to and one that is her trusted vote-bank.
Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that an assessment by party leaders in UP has concluded that a section of Jatavs, especially women, may be inclined to vote for the BJP due to the Modi government’s immensely popular Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, under which LPG connections are provided to women of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families.
The BJP leaders believe that if the party can strike an emotional chord with the Jatavs, a large portion of them may gravitate towards the party.
The party has already put in place a strategy and at the heart of it is Baby Rani Maurya, the former Uttarakhand governor who is also a Jatav.
With elections looming in UP, Maurya was made to resign as Uttarakhand governor earlier this month, but the party lost no time in naming her as its national vice-president.
Now, the BJP has decided to project Maurya, who hails from Agra, as one of its star campaigners.
“The party was lacking a female Dalit face who can create attraction for the party among the Dalit women. Baby Rani Maurya will fill this gap,” a senior BJP leader said. “She will grow BJP’s mass base not only among the Jatavs but also in the entire Dalit women community.”
According to a UP BJP general secretary, a decision has been taken to organise Maurya rallies in each and every district across the state.
“As per plans, Baby Rani Maurya will not only hold rallies in all 75 districts, but she will also work towards making a dent into the Jatav community by participating in over 100 BJP rallies aimed at the Jatav community within a span of three months,” the general secretary said.
A star campaigner
Baby Rani Maurya had met BJP president J.P. Nadda in Delhi last week. Sources said she was instructed to get in touch with UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and a meeting was held in which the BJP’s UP election in-charge Dharmendra Pradhan also sat down with Maurya to chalk out a strategy to break into the Jatav vote-bank.
Sources said UP general secretary Priyanka Rawat has been handed the task to draw a strategic blueprint for Maurya’s election rallies. These meetings are slated to start from next month and several of party’s big-wigs, including Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and prominent Dalit leaders from the Centre, will also participate in them.
In an exclusive conversation with ThePrint, Baby Rani Maurya confirmed that strategy was in place.
“As national vice-president, I have been entrusted with a great responsibility. Moreover, ever since my appointment as governor, there is great enthusiasm in the Jatav community,” she said.
“There is a need to associate the Dalit community with the party and hence I have been asked to tour across the state. The party is drawing out the itinerary for this tour. During the next three months, I will inform the people from the community about the achievements of the Modi government and the functioning of the state government.”
She also said that her chief task was to bring Jatavs into the Hindutva fold.
“My principal thought is to get the Jatav community associated with the cause of Hindutva. There is still a lot of division between them,” she said. “Connecting them with Hindutva is surely a big task.”
Baby Rani Maurya has been promoted over the years. In July 2018, she was appointed as a member of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights in the state. However, even before she could take charge, the BJP appointed her as Uttarakhand governor in August 2018. This appointment was made with an eye on 2022 UP Assembly elections.
As part of the strategy, particularly aimed at Jatav women, the party has sent Kanta Kardam, another women Dalit leader who lost the Mayor’s election in Meerut, to the Rajya Sabha.
Kardam told ThePrint that the Jatavs are beginning to desert Mayawati.
“If Mayawati has indeed done so much for the welfare of the Jatavs, then why is their condition so pitiful even today? They have also become aware of all this,” Kardam said.
“They also got LPG gas connections due to the Modi government’s Ujjwala scheme. They are also getting free ration during the Coronavirus epidemic and have received money for the toilet scheme.
“Welfare schemes of the Modi and Yogi governments are for everyone. Therefore, in order to deliver a message to the Jatav community, we are going to hold various conferences at the state level, which will connect them with the policies of BJP,” she added.
The BJP has also elevated other Jatavs, including G.S. Dharmesh as a minister of state.
The Jatavs of UP
Dalits constitute about 21 per cent of UP’s population and almost half (about 10 per cent) of them are Jatavs, who are among about 66 sub-castes among Dalits in UP.
In Agra, from where Baby Rani Maurya hails, Dalit make up about 22 per cent of the population.
Of the 403 seats in UP assembly, around 85 assembly segments are reserved for the SC community. In 2017, BJP had won 71 of these seats.
In western UP, from Meerut to Saharanpur region, Jatav voters have a presence of more than 20 per cent in around 40 assembly segments.
They played a major part in Mayawati’s elevation to power in the 2007 elections, along with Muslims.
In recent years, factors like Mayawati’s dwindling support base, uncertainty around her possible return to power, the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva agenda and its efforts to reach out to Dalits through various welfare schemes is already playing a role.
Some Dalit sub-castes such as Koris and Pasis have already shifted their allegiance from Mayawati to the BJP.
The parties, however, now have to contend with Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar who is also a Jatav.
“Young Jatav votes are already gravitating towards Chandrashekhar. It will be interesting to see how many votes he is able to split. Mayawati’s strategy of removing prominent leaders of the society from the party, and not competing with the BJP with renewed energy, has had an impact on the Jatav community,” said Shashi Kant Pandey, head of Political Science Department at Ambedkar University, Lucknow.
“Until now, the Jatav community has not abandoned Mayawati, but BJP is trying to create a perception that they have not only given fair share of power to the Dalit community but they have also launched several schemes for their welfare, whose benefits are reaching them.”
Pandey, however, added that the Yogi government’s handling of the Covid pandemic may play a part in how the Jatavs vote.
“During the Covid epidemic, a lot of Dalits and Jatavs who either work as daily wagers or do mundane jobs were badly affected,” he said. “It remains to be seen as to how many of them will actually vote for the BJP, but the party is working hard on a strategy to include the entire groups of Dalits through its Hindutva agenda.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)