Can Preeta Harit’s Dalit Advocacy Work for Congress in Agra?
A former bureaucrat with the tax department, Harit is committed to winning public support through her service in the SP-BSP stronghold where Congress last won in 1984.
File photo of Preeta Harit (Facebook)
New Delhi: Preeta Harit, Congress’ choice for Agra Lok Sabha seat, may be lacking in political experience but she’s hoping to make up for it through her work in Dalit advocacy. Harit’s name featured in the seventh list of Lok Sabha candidates released by Congress on March 23.
The 55-year-old former bureaucrat (she resigned as Principal Commissioner, Income Tax) has been running an organisation called Bahujan Samyak Sangathan for the past four years and claims to have support among the Dalit community “from Jammu to Assam”. Over 2 lakh people follow her Facebook page.
Her standing among the SCs will be vital to her fight for the Agra reserved Lok Sabha seat which has a sizeable numbers of Dalit and Muslim voters. According to a recent survey, Agra LS has around 10% Muslim and 10% Jatav voters (considered to be traditional Mayawati supporters). BSP has fielded Manoj Soni, who had contested the last Lok Sabha polls from Hathras on a BSP ticket in 2014 and stood second.
Harit hopes to inspire a large section of SCs through her own story of struggle. Born in Haryana to an economically humble family, Harit says she came across caste prejudices quite early on in her life.
“I studied in a municipal corporation run Hindi medium school in Delhi. And soon after joining my class, I was asked by my classmates to declare my caste. I remember being quite upset with it. It was my first introduction to caste,” Harit says.
She describes the moment when she went to her father, whom she describes as a “staunch Ambedkarite”, for answers about her caste. “When he sensed that I was mentally prepared for it, my father introduced me to the works of Ambedkar and those were really transformative days in my life. I read his speeches and essays night after night and in many ways my ideas were shaped in those sleepless nights.”
Having completed her education from a government Hindi medium school she went on to complete her graduation in an English medium college in Delhi University, sitting at home for hours afterwards to brush up her English. She did her post-graduation in History and in her very first attempt, at the age of 22, cracked the civil services. “I was ranked 22nd in the country and when I joined my batch, I was among the youngest in the class,” Harit says.
Problems affecting the Dalit community today are poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness and lack of respect, Harit says adding, “You could actually reverse this order to sort the problems according to their magnitude – lack of respect being the biggest of them.”
She says that she went on to found Bahujan Samyak Sangathan because she felt the need to “formalise the informal organisation” she had built up over time. Harit began by helping people from her community but later founded the organisation in 2015.
The Facebook page she runs has a list of programs she’s addressed in Delhi, Haryana and UP.
But she’ll need more than her organisational support, and perhaps more than her inspirational story, to win the seat. Congress may be backing her to take on BJP and the Gathbandhan in Agra but a fact that also stares her in the face is that Congress last won this Lok Sabha seat in 1984. Over the last 30 years, the seat has only switched hands between the BJP and SP.
In the 2014 elections, the contesting Congress candidate, Upendra Singh got a mere 34,834 votes or 3.25% of the total votes. In fact, in the last three elections, Congress has not even featured in the top 3 winning candidates.
Wooing the Jatav community, a section of which it will be safe to say still remains close to Mayawati, could be another hurdle. Harit says she’s not worried about the competition.
“I am not bothered by what others are saying or doing. I am approaching the elections on my own merit. I have done the impossible before. I am positive about doing it again,” she says.
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