New Delhi: In an attempt to reclaim its support base in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress party is wooing upper castes along with Dalits. The party expects that the recent induction of 34-year-old Jitin Prasada into the central council of ministers will send a positive signal to the upper castes in the state.
Prasada, a Brahmin, is an MP from Shahjahanpur. The Congress has adopted a toned down strategy in wooing Brahmins unlike its all-out campaign spearheaded by party general secretary Rahul Gandhi among Dalits.
Three prominent leaders are, at present, at the helm of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress. They include state Congress committee chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Congress Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari and Prasada.
BRAHMIN DALIT: Jitin Prasada, a Brahmin, is an MP from Shahjahanpur.
Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh said, "Such decisions (having Brahmins at the helm) do benefit the party in the long run because voters from that particular caste take this into consideration (while voting)."
However, party leaders are guarded in their views on mobilizing voters along caste lines. "The Congress party does not look at any caste as a vote bank. Before taking a decision (like appointing a Brahmin as a minister), the party looks at a variety of factors like eligibility and competence," Singh told IANS.
"For 40 years after independence, maximum number of castes was with us. Then the regional parties came into being and the votes got divided into small pockets and territories," he stressed.
In a way the Congress party is replicating the Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) experiment of social engineering, bringing together upper castes and Dalits.
Unlike in the southern states, Brahmins play a significant role in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. They constitute around nine percent of the 113 million-strong electorate in Uttar Pradesh, unlike in states like Tamil Nadu (3 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (2 per cent) and Kerala (0.2 per cent) where they have a minuscule presence.
The Congress has been at the receiving end of the growth of the BSP with the latter encroaching into the Congress' upper caste vote-bank. The party has lost the Dalits to the BSP.
In the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections last December, the BSP cut into the Congress' Dalit vote-bank and played a spoilsport for that party.
It is in response to the attrition in the Dalit vote-bank that Rahul Gandhi has started interacting with Dalit families.
He spent a night with a Dalit family in his constituency, Amethi, in January. In March he visited the aggrieved members of a Dalit family in Etawah that lost six members in a fight with bandits.
Since then Mayawati and Rahul have been at loggerheads.
But the BSP is not alarmed by the Congress' renewed focus on upper castes.
"It is too late for the Congress to win Brahmin votes. We have got their support not only in UP but other states as well," BSP Rajya Sabha MP Ambedhrajan told IANS.