This article by me has appeared (.pdf) in the Economic and Political Weekly.
On 14 April this year party general secretary Rahul Gandhi launched the Congress’ biggest campaign to revive itself since 1989. The date was carefully chosen, Ambedkar Jayanti, because he is trying to win over dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh (UP). In 1989 the Congress’ support base in UP was made up of a rainbow coalition of brahmins, Muslims and dalits. The Congress has to woo these communities again to regain power in UP.
The brahmin community took to the now ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in small numbers in the 2007 Vidhan Sabha election primarily because there was no strong brahmin leader after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Behari Vajpayee became politically inactive. Brahmins see in Rahul Gandhi a potential “brahmin” leader. The UP Congress president, legislative leader and Youth Congress president in the state are all from the brahmin community.
Muslim support is no longer enchained to the Samajwadi Party (SP) because their bete noire, the BJP, is powerless these days in both the centre and the state. As a result the Muslim vote is being fought for, as a three-way contest between BSP, SP and Congress. BSP head and Chief Minister Mayawati’s stratagem is to therefore change her party’s core support base constructed out of the “brahmin-dalit” alliance into a Muslim-dalit alliance.
The dalits, wooed away en masse by the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati duo of the BSP for years, would be the hardest to win back for the Congress. In fact, a year ago the very idea would have sounded ludicrous. But today, Mayawati’s angry reaction to the Congress’ bid to woo dalits is indication that the Congress may be winning over dalits. How is this happening? Continue reading “Rahul Gandhi and the Dalit votebank in Uttar Pradesh”