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Modi to woo Dalit voters 

The BJP has begun a scramble for Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh ahead of next year’s polls, with Narendra Modi planning to attend the anniversary of 15th century poet-saint Ravidas this month.

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 6.02.16
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Lucknow, Feb. 5: The BJP has begun a scramble for Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh ahead of next year’s polls, with Narendra Modi planning to attend the anniversary of 15th century poet-saint Ravidas this month.

The Prime Minister is expected to travel to attend 

Seer Goverdhanpur, the birthplace of the Dalit saint that falls in his Varanasi parliamentary constituency, on February 22.
 Satyapal Virdi, secretary of Ravidas Public Charitable Trust, said Modi had accepted the invitation. “A five-member committee led by Mandeep Das, priest of the Ravidas temple in Seer Goverdhanpur, went to the Prime Minister’s office earlier this week with an invitation. We were assured Modi would attend our main programme on February 22,” Virdi added.

If Modi does go, it would be the first time that a Prime Minister would attend a Ravidas anniversary and address his followers, mostly Dalits. The group accounts for 21 per cent of the state’s voters.

Virdi said Guru Ravidas’ followers spread across 23 countries of the world would attend the event. “Several thousand NRIs from 23 countries and Indian followers from 22 states attend the festival every year.”

Ravidas has a substantial following in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Maharashtra. He founded the Ravidassia sect. Scores of the sect’s members based in the France and the US had attended last year’s event. Over 70 canvas cottages had been erected near the venue to put up the overseas guests. 

The BJP has been firming up its Dalit pitch for sometime now. Modi had accepted the invitation of Lucknow’s Ambedkar Mahasabha and offered floral tributes to Ambedkar during his visit to the city on January 22 — days after Dalit student Rohith Vemula committed suicide at Hyderabad University over alleged discrimination on the campus.

BJP national president Amit Shah is expected to visit Bahraich to pay homage to Raja Suheldev, an 11th century Passi king from the Dalit community, on February 24. 

The Congress is also trying to win back its traditional Dalit voters. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi spent over an hour in the house of a Dalit, Gokul Prasad Kushwaha, in Mahoba district on January 23, having lunch and chatting with the family. 

BSP chief Mayawati, who commands the largest chunk of the Dalit votes, has asked party leaders to alert supporters to “the game plan of rivals”.  “They can promise the moon. They can even put a Dalit in an important post in their parties. But my supporters should foil their game plans,” she said last week.

Although Dalits have rarely voted for the ruling Samajwadi Party, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is not willing to give up without a fight. He recently offered land in Lucknow to the Ambedkar Mahasabha to construct a memorial to Ambedkar.