The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll focus on Gujarat Dalits

Ahmedabad, Dec. 10: The limelight that focuses on their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, to some extent, during elections has now swivelled on the Dalits of Gujarat.

The campaign strategies of the BJP and the Congress for the crucial Assembly polls on December 12 clearly show that Dalits have suddenly emerged as a decisive factor in the state. The two main parties are desperately trying to woo the crucial 9 per cent Dalit votes.

The BJP has roped in Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati to canvass for it, while Ram Vilas Paswan and Confederation of SC/ST Organisations’ chief Udit Raj are pitching for the Congress. The fact that the BJP — the “Manuvadi party’’, as Mayavati used to refer it — had to rope in the Bahujan Samaj Party chief to seek votes for her candidates and plump for its nominees, too, is an indicator that the party’s confidence in the Hindutva card is wavering.

The BSP has fielded 31 candidates in Gujarat. Last night, addressing a rally from the BJP platform, she appealed to the Dalit community to vote for the BJP in the remaining 151 seats.

While Mayavati’s open support for the BJP — the party she always criticised, but is now partnering in the Hindi heartland — has created some confusion among the BSP workers, Udit Raj has ensured that the 50-odd candidates he had fielded withdraw from the fray and declare support for the Congress.

“It is not a happy situation, but we have to make a choice between the lesser evil and the greater evil,” said Raj. He is supporting the Congress because of political compulsion.

“I’m not using their platform,” he pointed out, making a clear distinction between him and Paswan, who has been using the helicopter provided by the Congress for canvassing.

Several senior Congress leaders like Ahmed Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela had approached Raj for support, but he has come because he feels duty-bound to play an effective role in ensuring the defeat of the bigger evil. “I will be failing in my duties if I do not canvass for the Congress,” he added.

Although he has not addressed any rallies, he said his message has been conveyed to his workers across the state. So he need not make any speeches.

Attacking Mayavati for diluting Ambedkar’s ideology by supporting the BJP, which is the Dalit samaj’s main enemy, he claimed that his support will make a lot of difference in the poll scene in Gujarat.

Like Paswan, Raj is the state to counter Mayavati. Despite their differences, both leaders maintain that Mayavati cannot confuse the Dalit voters. How can Mayavati, who used to call the BJP a “Manuvadi party”, expect the electorate to vote for the party now, they asked. The BJP begs to differ, pointing to their success story in Uttar Pradesh.

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