While Dalits constitute a huge 20 to 22 per cent of UP’s electorate, there are estimated to be around 1.2 crore weavers in the country, most of them Muslims.
Of this, Varanasi, the PM’s Lok Sabha constituency, has the maximum number of weavers; they are also spread in other parts of the state. Momin, Taanti and Tantuwe communities among Hindus also belong to the weaver community.Modi had last year launched a scheme called “Ustad” in Varanasi to help weavers, and declared August 7 as the National Handloom Day.
On the second Handloom Day this Sunday, Modi pointed out that the sector employs thousands of people and exhorted people to use more handloom products to help those associated with this industry.
Modi also contended that many women are associated with the handloom sector, and growth of this sector is an important means to empower them.
While Sunday’s Town Hall meeting was mentioned mostly because Modi broke his silence on attacks by self-proclaimed gaurakshaks – with a series of attacks on Muslims and Dalits across the country – he also spoke at length on the subject of handloom. He said the slogan was “Khadi for Nation” during the freedom movement, and it should now be “Khadi for Nation, Khadi for Fashion”.
Addressing another Handloom Day event in Varanasi on Sunday, Textile Minister Smriti Irani said a national census of weavers will be carried out and the Prime Minister will be kept informed about their problems so that they are resolved. She also announced plans for a helpline for weavers and visited a weaver’s house in the ‘City of Silk’.
Mallahs (boatman) are the other community the BJP has been wooing aggressively since the Bihar polls. In early May, Modi had reached out to the numerically significant Nishad community in UP by launching 11 solar-powered “e-boats” at Varanasi’s Assi Ghat. He had told the community members that the government had named seven recently launched satellites “Naavik (boatman)”.
According to a rough estimate, people from Nishad, Bind, Mallah and Kewat communities constitute around 4 per cent of UP’s electorate.
These communities belong to either the Extremely Backward Class or Most Backward Class categories.
During the Bihar assembly polls last year, Modi had picked up a Mallah youth Mukesh Sahni, who was famously referred as “son of Mallah” throughout the multi-phase elections. But the gamble did not pay off for the BJP.