New Delhi: Two Dalit-related developments have unnerved the BJP as election campaigning is gathering momentum for the Karnataka Assembly polls next week.
Pictures have emerged of police recruits in Madhya Pradesh with the abbreviations "SC" (Scheduled Caste) or "ST" (Scheduled Tribe) scrawled on their chests with felt-tip pens during a medical examination in a government hospital on Saturday.
At Una in Gujarat, another BJP-ruled state, the Dalits who were flogged by cow vigilantes embraced Buddhism on Sunday.
The BJP fears the back-to-back incidents will have an impact in Karnataka, where Dalits constitute the single largest chunk of voters (around 18 per cent). The party managers fear the incidents could reaffirm the anti-Dalit image that the Opposition has been seeking to saddle the BJP with.
In the run-up to the Karnataka polls, the BJP's chief minister nominee, B.S. Yeddyurappa, had undertaken an outreach programme by eating at Dalit homes. "We are hopeful that the anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government could lead Dalits, like other caste groups, to turn towards the BJP," a BJP leader from Karnataka said. "But we are not going to get Dalit votes that match our expectations."
On the chest-stamping, the BJP maintained silence, even letting Rahul Gandhi attack the party without a repartee - a rare occurrence. BJP insiders said they had very little to say in defence and so had chosen to sidestep the issue.
On the campaign trail in Karnataka, BJP chief Amit Shah chose to attack Rahul for calling on the convicted Lalu Prasad at the AIIMS but did not refer to the two incidents.