NEW DELHI: The BJP is worried over the electoral impact of Dalit angst in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. An internal assessment of its performance in reserved constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan that went to polls recently paints a pretty grim picture.
If one were to aggregate the Assembly election votes based on parliamentary segments, the BJP would have lost eight of the 10 reserved Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh and have been swept away in all five SC/ST constituencies in Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh, it would have been a whitewash in all six tribal seats. The Dalit seats it could have retained were Ujjain and Tikamgarh.
Having won 67 of the total 131 SC/ST Lok Sabha seats across the country in 2014, the BJP seemingly has the impossible task of replicating it in 2019.
With Madhya Pradesh witnessing violent Dalit protests in the last two years, the BJP grip on reserved Assembly seats slackened in the just concluded Assembly elections. Against the tally of 28 of the 35 reserved SC seats in the 2013 state elections, the BJP could only bag 18 in the 2018. In Rajasthan, the BJP had 32 reserved SC constituencies in the bag in 2013, which slumped to 12 in 2018. The trend was more pronounced in Chhattisgarh where the BJP slumped from nine reserved Dalit seats to just two in 2018.
The BJP’s internal assessment noted that the party leaders couldn’t counter the Opposition onslaught on Dalit issues. “The Opposition succeeded in spreading their claim that the NDA government at the Centre was not protecting the rights of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Despite the Centre amending the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to go around a Supreme Court verdict that had diluted it, the party couldn’t hold on to its 2013 support base. Its lack of strong Dalit leaders of national stature was sorely felt,” said a senior BJP functionary.
Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand are at the heart of the tribal landscape. But the BJP hasn’t yet been able to project tribal leaders who have influence in the bigger stage.
“The leadership crisis in the BJP’s tribal ranks cannot be looked away,” the functionary pointed out.
Actually the strengthening of the SC/ST Act ended up antagonising the upper castes in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which made the BJP leaders toil hard.
The BJP will struggle if it does not assuage Dalit anger, as there are 17 reserved Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. The cowbelt state holds the key to the fortunes of the party winning the 2019 electoral battle.