It appears that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to woo the Scheduled Caste population in Himachal Pradesh after one Rajya Sabha seat was recently given to Dalit academician Dr Sikander Kumar. With 27 per cent of the population being Dalits, the state ranks at No. 2 in the Scheduled Caste population after Punjab. The party also made its presence felt in the 2017 assembly state elections after it won 13 of the total of 17 reserved seats.
While the state has witnessed the emergence of many Dalit leaders and even the Congress has a dominant presence, a two-day conference of the BJP’s national body of Scheduled Castes Morcha, which ended on Wednesday, has sent a clear signal that the party campaign for the next election is based on 'beneficiaries agenda' to make effective inroads in the Dalit community. National President SC Morcha Lal Singh Arya says the SC and other downtrodden sections are receiving benefits to the tune of Rs 142 lakh crores through several welfare schemes. In the past two days, the morcha worked out a three-month strategy to hold a sammelan at the constituency level that will inform the community about socio-economic upliftment schemes available for their benefit.
BJP's top think-tank and strategist, BL Santosh, also flew to Shimla to oversee deliberations of the office-bearers and state presidents of the BJP Scheduled Castes Morcha and made suggestions for maximum outreach to the state’s hill population. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and BJP state president Suresh Kashyap, besides Himachal Pradesh SC Morcha chief Nitin Kumar, were also present for the feedback sessions.
Former party MP Virender Kashyap says that the Dalit communities here are already receiving maximum benefits from existing welfare schemes such as Ayushman Bharat and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojanas or those related to housing, free ration, toilets, etc. These developments are reminiscent of what former Congress PM Indira Gandhi had done by allotting lands to Scheduled Castes, which had worked as it successfully brought the Dalits into the Congress fold for all successive years. “We observed that voting percentage shows 70 to 80 per cent of Scheduled Castes participating in the overall polling. Quite a high number compared to the rest of the communities in the state. Our aim is to remove any misconceptions about the BJP among Scheduled Castes (34 to 35 sub-castes) and provide them with the right information on Modi’s welfare initiatives,” says Kashyap, who also heads the HP Scheduled Caste Commission.
Himachal’s total population is 68,56,509, of which 50.72 per cent comprises upper castes—32.72 per cent Rajputs and 18 per cent Brahmins. The OBCs population account for 13 per cent, settled mainly in the Kangra district. Nitin Kumar, BJP SC Morcha chief and a management professional, says, “If the census had been held in 2021, the Scheduled Castes population could have been 28-29 per cent. We have influence in all 68 assembly constituencies and consolidation of this section will title the next results as was the case in 2017.”
In order to appease the upper castes, who have started an agitation, the state government announced the setting-up of an Upper Castes Commission, which did cause annoyance amongst the Scheduled Caste Community. However, Virender Kashyap claims the party has been able to remove any doubts created due to the formation of the commission. “Our party president and also sitting MP, Suresh Kashyap, belongs to the SC community. There is cabinet minister Dr Rajiv Saizal, and now RS member Dr Sikander Kumar,” the former MP tries to justify.