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Ganga Sojourn, Dalit Outreach: How Priyanka Gandhi's Trump Cards Have Hit SP-BSP, BJP Games

Top Congress leaders have confirmed that Priyanka Gandhi's visit to cities along river Ganga has more or less been finalised. This comes with two serious political and electoral agenda.

Pranshu Mishra | CNN-News18

Updated:March 16, 2019, 4:32 PM IST
Ganga Sojourn, Dalit Outreach: How Priyanka Gandhi's Trump Cards Have Hit SP-BSP, BJP Games
File photo of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Lucknow: Amidst the larger political discourse ahead of parliamentary elections, it’s Congress’s gradual shift towards reworking its caste calculations that is now catching attention of the political watchers.

The grand old party is making open moves to address the Dalits and the OBC communities. While it has taken Patidar leader Hardik Patel into its fold in Gujarat, the party’s open outreach to Dalit youth leader Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Raavan’ in UP and Priyanka Gandhi’s proposed ‘Ganga Sojourn’ has created a buzz in political circles.

Gandhi’s tour of the cities along Ganga is being seen as a bold and innovative move to reach out to a large section of non-Yadav backward communities, many of which fall under Most Backward Class (MBC) category that have been economically marginalised and face a sort of existential crises in the new economy.

It is this ‘shift’ that has left leaders like Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav a bit jittery and BJP a bit concerned in the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.

A senior Samajwadi Party leader and UP legislator, who did not wish to be named, said, “Congress has slightly disturbed our calculations by entering UP’s electoral battle more seriously and aggressively than what we had presumed. While a weak Congress would have been more a vote ‘katua’ (cutter) in BJP’s vote bank, a strong and caste-focused Congress can be a far bigger challenge for SP-BSP.”

“If Congress is able to catch the attention of Dalits and backwards in the state, for minorities too, it can be of interest as they generally remain warm towards the grand old party when it comes to general elections,” SP leader added.

Congress’s UP Bet and Ace of Caste Spades

Top Congress leaders have confirmed that Priyanka Gandhi’s plan of travelling from Allahabad to Varanasi through waterway on Ganga has been worked out. Only a few mandatory permissions from the administration and the election commission are awaited. But the innovative idea of Ganga waterways is not merely a symbolism or a populist electoral campaign idea.

It comes with two serious political and electoral agenda. One, reaching out to the non-Yadav backward castes like Kushwaha, Shakya, Kachahar, Kewat, Mallah, Nishad, Kashyap, Maurya, and Rajbhar, which have their highest population concentration in the region along river Ganga.

Population estimates suggest that all of these castes clubbed together form around 14 to 15 percent of backward caste population in the state.

Following their traditional professions, most of these castes are into economy that is directly related to the rivers like fisheries, operating boats and cultivation in fertile plains along water bodies. Others are artisans and craftsmen who have been historically depended on soil from the river basin.

Political agenda behind the ambitious ‘Ganga Mission’ was clear when UP Congress president Raj Babbar on Thursday said in Lucknow that Congress’s east UP in-charge will be visiting villages and meeting the locals along river Ganga. “She will try to understand and address to the problems and issues of these people,” he said.

A Congress MLA, who herself belongs to an area located along the river, further explained the importance of Priyanka Gandhi’s visit. MLA from Pratapgarh’s Rampur Khas, Aradhna Mishra, said that while she agrees with the backward caste realities of the districts along the banks of Ganga, Gandhi’s visit is to “bust BJP’s and PM Modi’s lies of ‘swachh and nirmal’ Ganga”.

“Our party also believes that river Ganga is not just about a religious perspective that PM Modi often projects, it’s more about the civilisation. Generations of Hindus and Muslims and people of different castes have flourished along the holy river,” Mishra added.

Prashant Trivedi, associate professor with Giri Institute of Development Studies, makes some interesting observations.

He says, “UP has backward caste population above 55 per cent. Politically, the castes within the larger OBC bracket have shown varying political trends over successive elections. The biggest and most dominant caste of Yadav/Ahir/Gwala constitutes around 20% of the community. They have more or less been with the Samajwadi Party since the days of Mandal Commission.”

“Similarly, the second most dominant and upward caste within the backwards is that of Kurmis/Patels. They figure around 7.5 percent of total OBC population. Kurmis have tendency of a shift. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls, the caste has more or less remained with the BJP,” Trivedi added.

But apart from Yadavs and Kurmis, is the politics of those backward castes which are described as the MBCs. It’s this section which Congress now wants to reach out. This section has been “politically mobile” with shifting loyalties.

Political observers feel that these castes have no permanent affinity to any particular political party and hence, Congress’s outreach could have serious outcome, both for the SP-BSP alliance and the BJP.

Highly placed sources said the grand old party will also involve Hardik Patel in the campaign in UP with an intent to project its larger backward caste outreach.

First, Priyanka Gandhi's outreach to meet popular Dalit youth leader Chandrashekar Azad, and then the planned backward caste mobilisation is probably also the reason why Maywati and Akhilesh Yadav have become aggressive against the Congress.

Both the leaders have now upped the ante with declaring joint rallies and intensive campaign, clearly showing that they are concerned about their Dalit-backward caste consolidation and don’t want to lose it to any party.

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| Edited by: Sumedha Kirti
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