For Dalits, BJP and Congress inert, BSP only a fringe party, Azad is new hope
Neither the Congress nor the BJP has ever acted against those who kill Dalits for who they are, say voters; in the past few months, Chandrashekhar Azad and his Bhim Army have consistently stood with them whenever atrocities happen and have put pressure on the authorities to act, they add
SOBHANA K. NAIR, ABHINAY LAKSHMAN
There is just a difference of one word in the names of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Azad Samaj Party (ASP) for the former though it spells its worst ever crisis in Rajasthan since 25 years after it won its first seat in the Assembly elections. While the Jatav community, especially in eastern Rajasthan, remains committed to BSP supremo Mayawati, the ASP is drawing mostly the younger Dalit crowd.
Will the young voters’ attraction towards the ASP’s flamboyant leader Chandrashekhar Azad prove fatal to the BSP is a question up in the air. As per the 2011 census, Rajasthan has 17.8% Dalit population with 34 SC reserved seats and as per estimates, another 30 to 40 seats where they hold the deciding vote.
The entrance to Bharatpur’s Karili village has been waterlogged with overflowing sewer for the last two years. A crowd streaming back after attending Ms. Mayawati’s rally in the nearby town carefully picks its way back to homes, hopping over the bricks laid down to help it cross the pool of unsanitary water. There is a palpable sense of betrayal against the sitting legislator Joginder Singh Awana, who fought and won the last election on a BSP ticket only to switch sides to the Congress. Roop Chand, 55-year-old school teacher, declares, “This is a straightforward case of cheating!” The small knot of men, both young and old, nod along. But will the peripatetic BSP legislators make them switch their loyalties? The answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. Vijay Ram, 42, a daily wage farm labourer explains the reason. “Even if we vote for the BJP or the Congress, our vote is not counted. They believe that we vote for the BSP alone,” Mr. Ram said. And why not, he adds, after all it was Ms. Mayawati alone who gave us the self confidence to stand up and be counted. Both Mr. Chand and Mr. Ram are from the Jatav community. The ASP, they say, is still an unknown variable. “Are they here to stay,” 36-year-old Munesh Kumar wonders. Though, Mr. Azad is a familiar name, the consensus is to keep the ASP on probation in this election season. But there are many younger faces in the crowd who are largely silent. After the crowd disperses, they express their admiration for Mr. Azad, show off his video clips and rave about his “strong” personality. Bharatpur district has one of the largest concentrations of Dalits amounting to 21.9% of the total population.
The BSP made its debut in Rajasthan 33 years ago in the 1990 Assembly polls. But it was only in 1998, eight years later, that it won two seats. In the 2008 elections, the party hit a high with 7.60% vote share, winning six seats, but its legislators promptly shifted to the Congress. In 2013, its vote share dipped to 3.40%, bringing down the BSP’s tally to three seats and in 2018, the party registered a minor increase, cornering 4% vote share but managed to win six seats. But once again all the party legislators switched to the Congress.
This time again the BSP is contesting in 185 seats while the ASP is contesting in 42 seats in alliance with Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.
Atrocities against Dalits
About 500 km away in Pali, a similar narrative is heard. As per the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau, Pali is among the top 10 districts in terms of number of atrocities against Dalits. There is widespread disappointment with both the BJP and the Congress for being inert. The BSP has not been a significant player here but Mr. Azad holds out a hope for them. Mangilal Meghwal (62), former sarpanch of the Maandal village, said, “Regularly, people from the Rajpurohit community are beating us up, killing our women. Even getting an FIR registered is a task.” Mr. Meghwal’s village falls under the Sumerpur constituency which has been with the BJP for the last 10 years. He is a self-confessed BJP supporter. “Neither the Congress nor the BJP have ever really acted against those who kill us for who we are. But in the last few months, we have come to know about Chandrashekhar Azad in our village. He and his Bhim Army have consistently stood with us whenever atrocities happen and have put pressure on the authorities to act.”
But when asked if this was enough to secure their support, Mr. Meghwal added, “Look, they are young and seem to be doing good. But at the end of the day, we know the chances of Azad forming the government is very low.”
The same doubt was expressed by Lakshmanram Meghwal (67) in Dhola Shasan village in the same constituency. Even though he has been voting for the Congress in the State elections, Mr. Meghwal said, “I would vote for the BSP if I could but I don’t know the candidate they are fielding as opposed to the ones fielded by the Congress and the BJP.”
The appeal for Azad and his Azad Samaj Party has also spread to parts of areas like Jhunjhunu, where traditionally, the fight has always been between the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party. “This time around tens of thousands are showing up for ASP rallies and Mayawati ji does not seem to be enthusing the crowds too much,” said Deependra Kumar (34), who hails from a Dalit family in Jhunjhunu, and was in Sojat at a Congress rally on Wednesday.
Mr. Kumar added that while many households, traditionally with the BSP, were now looking towards the ASP in his hometown of Ambedkar Nagar, he expressed doubts about how many will actually convert into votes. “They might be getting the crowds, but the question is how many of these people will end up voting for them.”
Courtesy : The Hindu
Note: This news piece was originally published in thehindu.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right