With Uttarakhand’s sizeable SC/ST population likely to score the decider in next year’s assembly elections, Congress and BJP stepped up efforts to woo Dalits on Thursday—125th birth anniversary of Dalit icon B R Ambedkar.

While BJP president Amit Shah attended an Ambedkar rally in Haridwar, Congress leaders, including rebels, went all out to show their concern for Dalits. Congress’ state chief Kishore Upadhyay and former CM Harish Rawat not only garlanded the Ambedkar statue at Dehradun’s Ghantaghar but also visited temples to Sant Ravidas in Dehradun and Haridwar, respectively. They pledged to fulfil Ambedkar’s vision of Dalit uplift. Altogether, Congress members visited 11 temples in different districts of the state on Thursday.
Former CM Vijay Bahuguna too visited Ghantaghar to pay tributes to Ambedkar. “Ambedkar raised his voice for the uplift of Dalits. Congress has always believed and followed his principles,” said Upadhyay, who visited Ravidas Mandir in the D L Road area of Dehradun. He denied any political motive behind the Congress’ tributes.
In a press release, Upadhyay accused BJP of being anti-Dalit. “They have always harassed and humiliated Dalits,” it said. The party’s spokesman in Uttarakhand, Mathura Dutt Joshi, said Congress has never missed paying tributes to Ambedkar on his birth anniversary. “We have always followed the path of Ambedkar, therefore the functions this year should not surprise anyone,” he added.
Joshi said BJP was using the day with a “political motive.” He pointed out that Shah’s programme in Haridwar was a “planned move to exploit the Dalit vote bank,” and added: “It surprises me that all of a sudden BJP has started remembering Ambedkar and they have started projecting themselves as the messiah of Dalits.” About Congress members’ visits to Ravidas temples across the state, he said, “The temples are a reflection of Dalit faith, we reached out to them and took a pledge before them to work for their welfare.”
Carved out of Uttar Pradesh in November 2000, Uttarakhand has a population of slightly more than 1 crore, of which about 22 lakh are SC/ST, largely settled in Haridwar and Dehradun.