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As Mayawati's BSP falls, SP tries to rise to clinch key Dalit vote in UP

Encouraged by BSP’s falling graph in UP and its prolonged hiatus from power, the Samajwadi Party is making a concerted bid ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls to club the caste cleavage between OBCs and Dalits engendered by a bitter fallout with Mayawati in 1993.

Mobilization of Dalit votes is now key to SP’s PDA combination- the Hindi acronym for backward, Dalits and minorities- that Akhilesh Yadav is seeking to frame for the general elections to reduce the 10 percent vote difference between his party and the ruling BJP.

Spearheaded by former BSP minister Swamy Prasad Maurya who switched over to the SP in 2022, the party has been organizing meetings of backward communities, especially those who have moved closer to the ruling BJP over the last decade.

The new strategy has been necessitated as the pre-poll tie-up with the BSP conducted in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls came a cropper. The non-transfer of votes from BSP to SP candidates was apparent when the former won twice as many seats.

Thus, in the 2022 assembly polls, SP tweaked its strategy to bring on board ex-BSP leaders who were seeking to anchor their political careers as Mayawati drifted to the sidelines. Akhilesh Yadav though lost the elections, but was able to mop up more than 32 percent of votes, registering the best-ever performance by SP since its inception. In the eastern districts like Ambedkar Nagar, where the strategy worked, SP registered a very high strike rate.

However, in the western and central UP, Akhilesh-led alliance left huge space for the BJP which effectively capitalized on BSP’s lackluster campaign. As a result, Yogi swept through the large tracts in the heart of UP without much resistance.

“Which is why we have been trying to reach out to the Dalits in particular. In Shamli in west-UP where I come from, we have for the last one year organised special camps to bring Dalits on board,” says Dr Sudhir Panwar who contested from a seat in the district in 2017.

The party has for the first time formed a special cell- the Ambedkar Vahini- to bring Dalits on board. The focus is more on non-Jatav voters like Pasis who have splintered away from the BSP as a reaction to the dominant caste in the Dalit block. Strong Pasi leaders who were once with the BSP like Indrajit Saroj and RK Chowdhary are now with SP.

Earlier this year, with Swamy Maurya by his side, Akhilesh Yadav inaugurated a statue of BSP founder Kanshi Ram in Rae Bareilly. That’s a far cry from the SP of the yore which under Mulayam Singh Yadav once opposed reservations in promotion for SC and STs.

(Published 16 October 2023, 19:01 IST)

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