Rediscovery of Ambedkar

In a strategic move to wean away Dalit voters from Mayawati's fold, Rahul Gandhi flags off rath yatras on Ambedkar jayanti through all Dalit-dominated areas in UP
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

The Congress launched its campaign for the next assembly elections in UP on April 14 by flagging off the Sandesh Chetna Rath Yatra. Rahul Gandhi addressed a huge gathering of potential voters in the Ambedkar Nagar ground on the same day in the Faizabad division. Political analysts were left wondering why the Congress general secretary decided to launch this campaign - 'Mission-2012' - on Ambedkar jayanti, that too from Ambedkar Nagar.  

Rahul chose to address crowds at Ambedkar Nagar since it is also a stronghold of UP Chief Minister Mayawati. The launch of this campaign was selected on Ambedkar jayanti to convey to the nation and to the people of UP that the Congress is genuinely interested in working for Dalits. It is worth mentioning that the BSP had won all the assembly seats here during the last elections assuring Mayawati a seat in the Lok Sabha. Her government has two important ministers from Ambedkar Nagar. 

Dalits have traditionally been Congress supporters till they were won over by Kanshiram, the founder of BSP and Mayawati's mentor. Rahul and his strategists have been working on the plan to bring back Dalits to the Congress-fold. The young leader has gone several times to their poor bastis (villages), shared meals with them and spent nights in their homes in order to win their confidence. His visit was welcomed since no other politician, not even from the BSP, had spent that kind of time with villagers of India, especially the poorest of the poor. Once Rahul even brought along the young British Foreign Secretary, David Millilband, to a Dalit village in his own Lok Sabha constituency - Amethi - and both spent quality time with the villagers, including a typical village night in the open.

The Congress leader's visit to Dalit villages not only provided first-hand information to him about the ground reality but also forced the Mayawati government to accelerate the implementation of various schemes designed for Dalits. She now seems to have dropped the social engineering slogan of 'sarvjan hitai' (the good of everyone) and is keenly pursuing her original constituency of the Dalit agenda, reflected amply through her address to party workers at the maharally held in March in Lucknow to commemorate 25 years of her party. Besides, she has demoted her high-profile aide, Satish Mishra, a Brahmin, and has given cushy positions to Dalit leaders to send a signal to her constituency. She has also sacked the mafia don, Mukhtar Ansari, his brother, and is planning to cleanse her party of several criminals she has patronised to flex muscle, despite having launched a campaign earlier against Mulayam Singh Yadav for protecting criminals.

As a part of his strategy, Rahul attacked Mayawati, pointing out failures of her government on all fronts during his public meeting at the Ambedkar Nagar ground. Enthused by the impressive participation of people, Rahul said the UPA government had launched the most ambitious employment generation scheme for rural Indians - the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (NREGS) - to provide jobs to rural youth and others. He complained that the Act was not being properly implemented by the UP government which claimed to be 'for the poor'. "Wherever I went in the state and enquired from people if they were getting jobs under the scheme, they all raised their hands in the negative," he said.He questioned the UP government's claims of providing employment under the NREGS when massive migration from backward regions like Bundelkhand hinted otherwise. "This is despite a special package that the UPA government has given to Bundelkhand. The UPA government has been sending massive funds for various central schemes for the people of UP but the money never went beyond Lucknow," he said.

Exposing UP government's apathy towards education, Rahul reckoned that the UPA government brought the Right to Education Act but the state government has failed to implement it, citing lack of funds as the reason. Regarding his frequent visits to Dalit villages of UP, Gandhi complained that opposition parties (read the BSP supremo and her party leaders) used to make fun of him, calling it all a tamasha (fake show) even though he was "just interacting with people". He claimed that this helped his party in getting so many seats at a time when even the media had written it off.

Significantly, Rahul brought Ambedkar at par with Mahatma Gandhi, when he used one garland for the portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar. He recalled that the Congress had made Ambedkar the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and the Union law minister after Independence.

For the rath yatra, ten mini-trucks were converted into raths (chariots) which will travel through the entire state in two phases, covering almost all assembly constituencies and touching all Dalit-dominated areas. These yatras are being led by MPs, MLAs and other senior party leaders. Congress spokesperson Subodh Srivastav informed that the first phase would get over in May and the second phase would begin after monsoon. "All rath yatras would finally reach Allahabad, where leaders would hand over the flags to Sonia Gandhi on November 10," he said. Then she would hold a special meeting of the Congress to mark 125 years of the party at Anand Bhawan and address a public meeting.

Congress leaders participating in the yatra are narrating the history of the Congress party, the freedom movement, and achievements of the UPA government, including the various central schemes. Also, they remind the people of how Mayawati's government has "done nothing for Dalits while atrocities on women have increased manifold during the current regime". Former minister Satyadeo Tripathi said that according to the feedback from many districts, including Sultanpur and Azamgarh, the campaign has got good response, especially in Dalit-dominated areas. "This will certainly help in revival of the party. It will help in achieving Rahul Gandhi's Mission-2012 - to capture power in the state," he said.

Political commentators feel the Congress campaign on Ambedkar jayanti is a smart move to wean away Dalits from BSP, which is clearly nervous and wants to keep its core voters intact. During the last Lok Sabha elections, it was felt that Brahmins and Muslims were returning to the Congress and a good percentage of Dalits were showing apathy towards BSP candidates since they were not as enthused with the party as they used to be earlier.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2010