The anger over the gang-rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district is likely to resonate in neighboring Bihar where assembly elections are scheduled to begin by the end of October. The incident has provided an issue for the Opposition parties in Bihar to corner the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is ruling Uttar Pradesh under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
A fortnight after being allegedly gang-raped by four upper caste men, the 19-year-old Dalit woman from Hathras succumbed in a Delhi hospital on September 29. She was cremated by police in the night triggering public outcry amid allegations that the family was not even allowed to be part of the last rites. A few hours later, another 22-year-old Dalit woman died after she had allegedly been gang-raped by two youths in Balrampur district of Uttar Pradesh.
Facing criticism over the crimes, the UP government set up a three-member Special Investigation Team(SIT) to probe the Hathras incident. The government also announced a compensation of Rs 25 Lakh for the victim’s family, a government job for a family member, and a house in Hathras city. But it didn’t stop the Opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress, to launch an attack on the BJP.
Bihar will vote in three phases beginning October 28. Chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) and its allies in the NDA, including the BJP, are aiming to retain power in the state. The ruling coalition is being challenged by the ‘GrandAlliance’ comprising the Tejashwi Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and other smaller parties. BSP chief Mayawati was among the first leaders to blame UP government and UP police for the insensitivity in the crime while demanding resignation of the Chief Minister.
“Yogi Adityanath should resign if he can’t ensure safety of women. I urge the Central government to send him to his place-Gorakhnath Math. If he doesn’t like the temple he should be given the task of Ram Temple construction,” the former UP CM told news agency ANI on October 1. Mayawati had on September 29 announced that her party will fight the elections in Bihar in alliance with Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) and other parties. Kushwaha had recently severed ties with the “Grand Alliance”.
Dalits comprise nearly 16 percent of the state's population which is sizeable enough to sway the electoral outcomes for the parties. Of the 243 seats in the Assembly, 38 are reserved for Scheduled Castes (Dalits). It is not for nothing that both alliances are trying to outdo each other in wooing Dalit voters. In the 2015 assembly polls, the RJD bagged 14 of the SC seats, the JD(U) 10, and the Congress and BJP five each while the remaining four were won by other parties. Former Deputy CM and RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav also attacked the BJP over the Harthras gangrape.
“This incident has once again exposed BJP’s anti-Dalit character. Thecountry knows now that ‘Beti Bachao’ was not a slogan but a warning,” Yadav said in a tweet on September 30. The incident happened at a time when BJP is having a tough time in stitching up an alliance with the Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) to consolidate SC votes. Of the 22 sub-cases with SC, Paswans, the core voters of the LJP, are significant comprising nearly 4.5% of state’s voters. Having met little electoral success among SCs, BJP wants Paswan on board along with former CM Jitan Ram Manji whose Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) is also popular among SCs.
“Election is almost one month away. But if the protests continue, it is likely to impact BJP’s prospects. But I think, the way Yogi Adityanath reacted after the call with the PM,the anger will be taken care of,” said a BJP leader who did not want to be named.
Congress party, part of the “Grand Alliance”, has also tried to corner BJP. On October 1, Congress said that its former president Rahul Gandhi and his sister and party general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will visit the family of the Harthras victim.
“The atrocities on daughters continue in UP’s jungle raj. They were not given respect when alive and the dignity has been snatched even in their death. The BJP’s slogan of Beti Bachao’ is not to save girls but to hide facts,” Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi. His sister Priyanka also tweeted.
“A gruesome incident like Harthras has happened in Balrampur….There is no limit to Uttar Pradesh’sjungle raj.. This is about time that the CM is held accountable,” she said. A day before, theCongress had demanded Yogi Adityanath’s resignation. Party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi said in a video message that the “Nirbhaya of Hathras” was killed by a “cruel and insensitive” government.
The three-phase polling will be held at 1, 06,527 polling booths across 38 districts of Bihar, many of which were affected by floods recently. Bihar has 72 million registered voters, according to the Election Commission of India.The 2015 assembly election in Bihar was held over five phases from October 12 to November 5, and the results were declared on November 8. The elections saw a 56.8 percent voter turnout, the highest for the state in the last 15 years.