Joshi’s remark setback to Congress efforts to woo Dalits

TNN, 18th July 2009

NEW DELHI: The Congress assertions since Thursday that Ms Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s remarks about Ms Mayawati were unfortunate have a candid post-script. The comments, according to senior Congress leaders, are most unfortunate for the party, coming as they did within such a short span of the party’s electoral rejuvenation in the crucial heartland state of Uttar Pradesh.

There is a growing recognition within the party that the avoidable episode had put the Congress in a tight corner. The remarks are being seen as an over enthusiastic ‘slip of the tongue’ to a statement with “saas-bahu” (TV serials) flavour. But there is unanimity that the reference to UP chief minister Mayawati, in a speech about the monetary compensation given to Dalit rape victims by the state government, has gifted the BSP an evergreen issue on which to flay the Congress and its bid to woo back Dalits.

But, as a top leaders pointed out, the Congress has no choice but to stick with Ms Joshi at this point after having opened the issue of the breakdown of law and order front in its attack on Ms Mayawati on Thursday.

The party tried to wriggle out of its ‘break down of law and order’ script on Friday by doing away with any overt references to the issue — general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s remarks were focused on the lack of development in UP especially for Dalits — but coming out the situation without any damage would not be easy, leaders said.

A Union minister said the Congress had only two options at this stage — the “ostrich option” by burying its head in the sand and waiting for the sandstorm to pass, or “to get proactive”. According to the leader, the second one was difficult to enact with Ms Bahuguna in prison. “We cannot appoint a deputy to her at this stage as it would mean that we are giving up the fight,” the leader said.

According to the minister, the best course of action would be to wait for Ms Joshi to get out of jail — she has been remanded in judicial custody for 14 days — and get her point of view as well. He hinted that she could be asked to make statements aimed at “assuaging” hurt sentiments.

However, many in the party are saying that even this may not be enough. A top AICC functionary advocated that party should let Ms Bahuguna fight the case legally while the party fought the political battle.

Mr Gandhi’s remarks on Friday point to the Congress’ dilemma. The Congress leader, while dubbing Ms Joshi’s comments as “unfortunate” also said he agreed with the “sentiments” expressed by the UPCC chief about the UP government’s neglect of Dalits.

The move to reach out to the Dalits and establish the Congress’ “pro-Dalit” platform might be the only recourse left with the Congress. With the UP chief minister painting the issue as proof of the Congress’ anti-Dalit mindset, the party could have a tough time explaining why it has not yet taken action against its Brahmin state unit president.



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