On April 14, the birthday celebrations of the Dalit leader will see a clash of the titans in UP. Rahul Gandhi, who has steadily been trying to win back the 20 percent Dalits in the state to his party, will turn the dial to a new high. In the other corner of the ring, Mayawati, the UP Chief Minister, will try to hold her ground with the voters who have elected her to office.
Determined to show he's no rookie, Gandhi has booked Ambedkar Nagar, the bastion of Mayawati's Bahujan Samjawadi Party, as the spot from where he will flag off ten state-wide yatras. It's the Congress' most lavish pre-election exercise in recent history. Trucks with stages and high-tech audio-visual systems will roll ten Congress leaders into different parts of the state to tell Dalits that the Congress stands for them.
The key Dalit pockets of Ayodhya, Amethi, and Raebareili will be visited by PL Punia, a prominent Congress Dalit leader. ''We are going to cover every block and hold public meetings in every Assembly segment. We will cover 40 Assembly segments per yatra. So this is a massive exercise, and silently, we will extend our reach to the booth level,'' says Punia, who is also the Congress MP from Barabanki.
Mayawati, who knows a thing or two about appropriating the Dalit legacy, is going on the offensive as well. She started poking holes in the Congress' preparations a few weeks ago with pointed criticism of their posters that had no images of Dalit leaders. Blustering Congress workers then ordered a reprint, and the new publicity material shows Babu Jagjivan Ram and Ambedkar.
The Chief Minister is also staging large protests against the Women's Reservation Bill, pushed through the Rajya Sabha recently at the clear instructions of Sonia Gandhi. Mayawati argues that the Bill does not reserve seats for Dalit women, and therefore, lets down the people of UP.
And so BR Ambedkar's birth anniversary will become the first stress-test of the next election, scheduled for 2012.