The BJP announced its list of candidates for Minister of Legislative Council (MLC) elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on Sunday. The list includes the names of Dr Sanjay Paswan and Vidyasagar Sonkar from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Both have been leaders of stature but have been out of the limelight for more than a decade. Both represented the party in the Lok Sabha as MPs.
The strategy of bringing back these political heavyweights from oblivion is clear: The BJP wants to extend its Dalit outreach, which was earlier limited to the allies of the party in the Hindi heartland. The party previously almost side-lined its own senior Dalit leaders for the sake of alliances, which seems to have started changing.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is allied with Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, which represents the interests of the Rajbhar caste, and which has substantial numbers. Similarly, in Bihar, the BJP is allied with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party, which also represents Paswans, a caste having substantial population. A negative side effect of such alliances is that the BJP has had to compromise on the political careers of its own senior leaders from such communities, as they would often be left out in pre-poll seat sharing arrangements.
This seems to have changed. The central party leadership is now looking to directly make overtures to Dalits and not farm it out to allies. This development might be a result of the 2 April Bharat bandh, called by Dalit groups to oppose a Supreme Court ruling which they believed diluted the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. However, the protests were markedly directed against the government, giving a sense of pent-up anger in these communities against the BJP.
Speaking to Firstpost, Sanjay Paswan said, “The movement which culminated with the bandh of 2 April was spontaneous. The government deserves accolades for its courage when it mentioned in its review petition before the Supreme Court that anger, anguish and assertion of Dalit community must be taken into account to review its judgment. This was done by the BJP government at the cost of its vote bank, which has a large chunk of people who are not very appreciative of the reservation system”.
He added, “Dalit politics has now entered a phase of political assertion and it would be wrong to call it the politics of aggression. During the bandh, even though there was a bit of anarchy, the bandh was largely peaceful, organised and decent. The happenings of 2 April can’t be taken lightly by any political party, including the BJP”. Paswan added he is thankful the party recognised the same, and as a result, he is filing his nomination on Monday.
The BJP nominations are a result of a carefully crafted strategy. It also reflects that the BJP leadership, as opposed to the popular discourse, is cognisant of the contemporary political situation and developments on grounds and taking them into consideration in all simportant policy matters.