Modi usurps Jagjivan Ram, tries to woo Dalits away from Mayawati

Photo: PIB

Modi usurps Jagjivan Ram, tries to woo Dalits away from Mayawati

The occasion

  • PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the 'Stand-up India' programme in Noida on Tuesday

  • The function was held on the occasion of late Congress Dalit icon Babu Jagjivan Ram's birth anniversary

The strategy

  • By paying tribute to Jagjivan Ram, Modi was trying to woo Dalits

  • He seems to have signalled the start of the 2017 UP Assembly elections campaign

More in the story

  • Why did Modi choose to address the function in Mayawati's home district?

  • Does Modi's speech indicate who'll be the BJP's face in the polls?

On Tuesday, 5 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 'Stand-Up India' programme in Noida. At a function organised to mark the occasion, Modi distributed keys to 5,100 e-rickshaws and reiterated his resolve to work for the poor, Dalits and the deprived segments of society.

However, the significance of Modi's Noida visit goes far beyond the semantics of the government press release. He has his eyes firmly fixed on the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The outcome of these elections is likely to be even more decisive for Modi than for his party. And he has sounded the bugle for this electoral battle even while the state BJP unit is struggling to sort out its internal differences.

Modi in Noida_EMBED 1

Photo: PIB

Spotlight on Dalits

Modi's speech was proof that his strategy is focussed on the powerful Dalit vote bank in the state. The state working committee meeting held recently also gave ample signals that Dalits are on top of the party's poll agenda.

The Prime Minister was accompanied by a host of dignitaries on the dais. Apart from about two dozen MPs belonging to the state - most of them Dalits - several ministers belonging to the Dalit community also attended the programme.

Also read: BJP's mantra for Mission UP: hail Modi, woo Dalits

Most of the people chosen as the recipients of e-rickshaws were also Dalits. Milind Kamble, the founder of the Dalit Chambers of Commerce, was also present on the stage with Modi. PM praised him several times in his speech.

Hijacking Jagjivan Ram

A large portrait of the Dalit icon Babu Jagjivan Ram adorned the stage. The Prime Minister had meticulously chosen Jagjivan Ram's birth anniversary for launching the Stand-Up India scheme. He paid floral tribute to the late Congress leader upon reaching the stage.

Even his speech began by the mentioning Jagjivan Ram's legacy. "I don't remember any government ever launching any scheme on the occasion of Babu Jagjivan Ram's birth anniversary. We commemorate such great personalities going beyond parties and ideologies. It is unfortunate that history tends to forget such heroes," he said.

Also read: Why is BJP backing Dalit MP Katheria's hate speech against Muslims?

Modi reminded the audience that Jagjivan Ram always excelled on the basis of his merit and capability. It was a clear-cut attempt to steal the Dalit icon's legacy from the Congress. And doing it in Noida seemed to be deliberate, since it is the home district (Gautam Buddh Nagar) of BSP supremo Mayawati, arguably the tallest Dalit leader in contemporary politics.

In a bid to hijack late Cong leader Jagjivan Ram, Modi paid tribute to his portrait in Noida, UP

The Prime Minister focussed his entire 30-minute speech on Dalits while targeting both the Congress and the BSP. He understands that the BJP faces its greatest challenge from Mayawati and her party in the elections, and it cannot hope to form the next government in UP without breaking into the BSP's traditional vote bank.

The Modi wave from the 2014 elections is ebbing. There seems no likelihood of en masse pro-Modi voting in the state elections. This makes the task of making inroads into the vote banks of other parties all the more necessary.

The poverty of the rich

Modi is trying to portray himself as the saviour of the Dalits before the electorate of UP. At a time when there is no consensus within his party about its leadership for the state, he has emphasised the importance of these elections while signalling that he could be the face of the party in these polls too.

Modi in Noida_EMBED 2

Photo: PIB

"We have seen the 'poverty' of the rich classes of this country. One of them has run away with the money of the banks. Look at how rich the hearts of the poor people are. They opened accounts under the Jan-Dhan scheme by depositing money, even though it is a zero-balance account," said Modi, without making a direct reference to Vijay Mallya or the recent Panama Papers scandal.

Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida) is the home district of Dalit icon and BSP supremo Mayawati

He also stated that the people getting e-rickshaws should focus on the education of their kids, especially girl children. The rest of the speech was a repetition of the promises and claims he has made since his Independence Day address in 2014.

Empty chairs and nationalism

There are other items as well on Modi's poll agenda for UP. He has called a high-level meeting on 9 April to discuss the drought situation in Bundelkhand. There would be little surprise if UP finds a place in most of his agenda and decisions in the near future.

Also read: UP Dalits spoiled for choice as parties woo them before elections

On the other hand, common life in Noida was affected by Modi's visit. Traffic was thrown out of gear. The administration remained busy in hosting a battery of VVIPs throughout the day.

A large number of chairs were arranged for the audience, but, to the BJP's dismay, not all of them were filled. Spectators started leaving the venue even while Modi was showing the green flag to the e-rickshaws. But even these small observations speak volumes about BJP's current popularity in the state.

The slogan 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' at the beginning and end of Modi's speech also caught the attention of the observers. Clearly, Modi is seeking to capitalise on Hindutva and nationalism in UP elections.

Linking nationalism with the Dalit agenda lies at the core of BJP's strategy for the polls. The party hopes this will not only enable the division of Dalit and Muslim vote, but also woo the Dalits.

It remains to be seen whether this strategy succeeds or not.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

Also read: BJP's formula to win UP: play communal ball with SP

Panini Anand

Panini Anand @paninianand