The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dalit bait to beat Priyanka

Amethi, Dec. 11: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati today tried to charm Amethi’s residents by offering to make it a full-fledged district and name it after Dalit icon Chatrapati Sahuji Maharaj.

The announcement at her Dalit Samman rally here appeared to be aimed at countering Priyanka’s recent visit to the constituency when she had taken up the cause of a Dalit, whose house had been razed by a Thakur landholder.

“See, what your condition is under a Dalit chief minister,” Priyanka, who was visiting her mother Sonia Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency for the first time as a mother, had told the villagers.

The stung chief minister responded by ordering the district administration not to allow rebuilding of the house by Congress workers as Priyanka had threatened. Mayavati claimed that the Dalit had no legal claim over the land and her government was committed to defending every citizen’s rights, “irrespective of his caste”.

The spat came as a handy tool to win over a section of upper castes, especially Thakurs, who feel they are being targeted after the state government’s drive against rebel legislators like Raja Bhaiyya and Dhananjay Singh.

But Mayavati also needed to soothe her Dalit supporters who were showing signs of disenchantment because of increasing atrocities on them. Carving a new district out of Sultanpur was supposed to be the salve, while naming it after a Dalit icon would send a positive message to her Scheduled Caste constituency.

Aware of the Election Commission’s directive, Mayavati clarified that she could not accord the status of a full-fledged district to Amethi till the process of delimitation of constituencies was in progress. “But once the process is over, Amethi will be re-christened as Chatrapati Sahuji Nagar and granted the status of a full-fledged district.”

But the Bahujan Samaj Party leader reserved her vitriol for Priyanka and the Congress. “Priyanka should tell us what her ancestors did for Dalits when they were in power.”

The words did not seem to draw the response she expected. Many in the crowd began retreating the moment Mayavati started lashing out at Priyanka and her family. Some were also angry that the new district, the 75th in the state, would be named after someone who had nothing to do with them. They wanted it to either retain its name or be named after Rajiv Gandhi.

But Mayavati continued with her tirade. “During her mother’s election, Priyanka had spread a rumour among Dalits here that the Congress was supporting me in Ambedkar Nagar to ensure that their votes could be transferred to her mother’s favour and she won. Now the bypoll to the Gauriganj Assembly segment (of Amethi) is to be held, which prompted Sonia to dispatch Priyanka to play a similar game. I have come here to caution you against these designs,” she said.

The chief minister made it clear that defeat of the Congress in the bypoll, due following the death of the sitting Congress MLA, would be the first trial of strength. “Let’s see how Priyanka can help the Congress retain the seat,” she said, emphasising that the Congress has used the Dalits only as a vote bank.

Congressmen in Amethi and neighbouring areas, however, did not appear too worried by Mayavati’s rally. “The chief minister is free to come and go anywhere she likes. But the timing of her decision to hold a rally in Amethi shows that Priyanka’s visit has shaken a lot of sleeping consciences in the state,” said Uttar Pradesh unit chief Arun Kumar Singh Munna.

“Priyanka elicited widespread interest by picking up cudgels on behalf of a Dalit in Punnapur village of Amethi. Apparently, she (Mayavati) couldn’t stomach it,” said Raj Behari, a resident of Sangrampur, who had come to attend the rally.

Ramesh Dixit, a political scientist, said Mayavati was “uneasy” because her Muslim supporters were getting wary of “her increasingly pro-saffron tilt”, especially after her campaign for the BJP in Gujarat. “At this juncture, she just cannot afford it if even a fraction of her Dalit vote bank shows signs of shifting toward the Congress,” he added.

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