OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

The Dalit factor continues to be a wildcard in Indian Politics and more specifically in Uttar Pradesh. What was traditionally a Congress vote bank in the 80s has since morphed into a constituency in its own right with many claimants. From Paswan to born again Dalits like Udit Raj. However BSP chief Mayawati continues to be Prima Donna with her pledge sometime back to redouble her efforts to bring in the country’s first Dalit Prime Minister. Mayawati’s immediate problems however are in Uttar Pradesh. In the last election Mayawati had attempted a focused outreach towards Muslims and Upper Castes, to broaden her base and mass appeal. While this strategy has been a mixed basket for Mayawati perhaps this time around it might be back to basics for Mayawati.

Offstumped takes a critical look at the Dalit vote in Uttar Pradesh.

Of the 80 odd lok sabha seats in UP 11 were reserved. In 2004, of the 11 crore voters in UP, SC/ST vote accounted for 2.3 crores. On the face of it the SC/ST electorate may account for only 20% but here is they key. Only 1.03 crore SC/ST voters showed up to the polls in 2004. With a less than 50% voter turnout the SC/ST electorate is an under penetrated one even for parties like the BSP which swear by Dalit politics. The other interesting statistic is that Dalit women voters to the tune of about 70 lakhs did not show up to vote.

To better appreciate how this latent Dalit women vote can impact the outcome consider the below scenario. Mayawati’s BSP managed to win 19 Lok Sabha seats all in Uttar Pradesh polling approximately 2 crore voters across the country. 15 of these seats were open seats while 4 were reserved. The BSP’s vote share in UP was 24% with a 1.3 crore votes polled in its favor. UP with a 5.6 crore voter turnout is still virgin territory for Mayawati with its historically low turnout amongst SC/ST women. If Mayawati were to only focus her efforts on SC/ST women and improve their turnout by half of those who did not vote last time around, she improves the BSP vote share to a dramatic 30% which contrasted with the BJP polling a measly 22% vote share in 2004 and the Congress’ pathetic 12% makes her a compelling challenger to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP which managed 30% of the vote share in partnership with Ajit Singh’s RLD.

But that maybe easier said than done given how poorly Mayawati has done with turning out the Dalit voter base. This throws up the possibility to a variety of new scenarios depending on which party best turns out Dalit votes in its favor, given the Dalit voter is by no stretch of the imagination a monopoly of the BSP. Offstumped’s analysis of voting patterns in the 2002 assembly elections has revealed the following. In a majority of the seats (251) the winner polled only 20% or less of the total electorate. Given this, any effort to improve turnout of a specific segment will have an impact on the eventual outcome if that segment is likely to consolidate behind a candidate or a party.

The question then is who is best placed to influence the Dalit voter turnout, especially the Dalit woman voter.

There is a renewed battle for leadership of the Dalit cause. A new breed of Dalit intellectual like Mr. Chandra Bhan Prasad are giving  a new spin to the Dalit cause by arguing for a Dalit embrace of English as a ticket to emancipation nirvana. On the other hand mainstream Hindu organizations lead by eminent personalites like Sri Sri Ravishankar of Art Of Living fame are reaching out to the Dalit populace to erase the centuries old hurt.  It is an open question at this time who will eventually prevail.

Offstumped Bottomline: The Dalit factor is likely to play a significant role in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. The battle in UP is more likely to be about turning out the Dalit vote in one’s favor than anything else, especially Dalit women voter turnout. In the run up to the elections those who can successfully claim leadership to the Dalit Cause will eventually prevail. Good reason for the BJP to get its Dalit act right to benefit from some of that turnout and to keep the doors open for a post poll aliance with Mayawati.

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