There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. Three-time Congress MLA, MP and former UPA Minister Krishna Tirath switched over to Bharatiya Janata Paety (BJP) just a day before the announcement of its candidates for Delhi Assembly election. Now, a well-known Dalit face Tirath is contesting from Patel Nagar Assembly constituency and Udit Raj, who had defeated Tirath in 2014 Lok Sabh election from North- West Delhi would campaign for her. Strange but true and it happens in politics. They now have a common goal to get a ‘ Purna Bahumat’ (full majority) for the BJP and it is a well-known political fact that Dalits in Delhi have a very dominant position with 12 of the total 70 Assembly seats reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates. Dalits constitute nearly 25 per cent of the total 1.3 crore voters and their votes will be decisive for any party.
Udit Raj, a well-known Dalit face, had defeated Rakhi Birla of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) last year and Tirath, who was representing the seat, had been relegated to third position. Central BJP leadership was trying to bring in prominent Dalit faces to bag a considerable share of the reserved seats as they are traditionally seen as favouring the Congress.
It’s BJP Vs. AAP in Delhi polls
Overall and with respect to Dalit votes, the fight is between the BJP and the AAP. The Congress has lost its charm and vote banks also. Political observers argue that in the last elections, the AAP won nine out of the 12 SC seats. Emergence of the AAP in Delhi was a clear reflection of the rising aspirations as also an impatience for inclusive growth. The AAP connects with Dalits well and will wrest a good number of seats. But the BJP is also expected to improve its tally vis-a-vis the Dalit seats.
For the last few months, BJP chief Amit Shah, who is not averse to caste politics and has been given the credit for his good understanding of the caste calculations in UP which led to the party’s grand success in the Lok Sabha elections there, is focusing on local identity politics. He is well aware that even in Delhi only governance and development agenda will not help to get a ‘ Purna Bahumat’ and the party needs to be engaged in casteism.
Under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the BJP has won Assembly elections in several States but the party is not very confident about Delhi and the main reason is the presence and penetration of the AAP in the lower strata of Delhi and 25 lakh Dalits remain the most sought-after vote bank. The party has directed Dalit MPs, of the BJP and its NDA partners, to campaign aggressively in the reserved constituencies.
Delhi Assembly election is certainly poised to witness very fierce, interesting and direct contest between the BJP and the AAP. The Congress is expected to make its presence felt on some select seats and its victory will be dependent more on candidates’ own strength in the constituency rather party’s vote banks. The Dalits and Muslims are its traditional vote banks and last year the AAP had made severe dent in these two segments.
Caste still dominates Indian political arena and it is evident from the fact that even in the national Capital political parties cannot rely alone on governance issue. In cosmopolitan Delhi, a mini India, voters would also be wooed on the basis of their creed, region and religion. Top managers of the BJP are aware that Modi wave may not have the same impact in Delhi as elsewhere, so they do not want to leave anything to chance.
Swachh Bharat is a connect to Dalits like AAP’s broom
If Kiran Bedi was brought in to showcase governance and development, woman empowerment and Panjabiat, Tirath’s entry manifests BJP’s desperation to dent traditional the vote bank of the Congress. Dalits, who are traditional voters of the Congress, shifted allegiance only last year because of promises made by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. Moreover, AAP’s election symbol broom is yet another ‘connecting’ factor for the party.
Times have changed. Modi’s magic is intact at the national level and he is pursuing an aggressive approach to finish all opponents and win State Assembly elections previously dominated and ruled by the Congress. Prime Minister Modi plays his card well and to bring in Dalits into the party fold, he had launched his ambitious Swachh Bharat mission from Delhi’s Valmiki Basti — a colony of sanitation workers.
Modi has certainly wooed the Dalits. Hundreds of Dalit workers have joined the party in the past couple of months. During his first poll rally at Ramlila Maidan, Modi had laid a lot of emphasis on the marginalised and poor sections of the city and promised to provide a house to all the slum dwellers by 2020.
The party has appointed observers in each of the 70 Assembly segments and its special focus is on the Dalit-dominated seats. The party is showcasing the Swachh Bharat mission, which has put the emphasis back on the sanitation workers.
With leaders like Krishna Tirath and Udit Raj, the BJP is expected to get large chunks of Dalit votes. It is obvious that this time, the saffron party is going all out to woo the community as they know that the 25-lakh strong voters can help the party get majority in the Delhi Assembly which the party missed by a mere four seats last year.
Governance, caste and inclusive development
However, all the political parties should realise that today we are living in an aspirational India. Each and every Indian aspires for a better life, be it housing, employment, law and order, growth. Certainly, the voter may not understand the complexities of economics, but he/she reacts rather strongly if his/her purchasing power is curtailed by inflation.
Only those political parties which deliver on governance will remain relevant in times to come and that will also make our democracy strong. And, caste politics, when aimed at inclusive development, is definitely positive. Only that it shouldn’t be used solely as a tool to gain power.