‘Political Parties Prioritise Votes’: Why Opposition Spoke on Hathras Stampede After Brief Silence

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After a long lull, the Hathras stampede and Baba Narayan Sakar Hari, in whose religious gathering, more than 123 people lost their lives, suddenly became the most ‘trending topic’ among the political parties as majority of them called the incident a complete failure of ‘district administration and police’.

Of the many attacks, which began pouring days after the incident, the most recent one came from Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram) chief Chandra Shekhar Azad, who held Surajpal alias Narayan Sakar Hari alias Bhole Baba responsible for the July 2 Hathras stampede and alleged that the district police, administration and the UP government were equally responsible for the tragic incident, which claimed more than 123 lives.

Besides, the Lok Sabha MP also asked the UP government to increase the compensation to Rs 25 lakh to the families of the 123 dead victims, adding that Surajpal should extend a financial help of Rs 1 crore on his own since he is “not a poor man”.

However, it took quite a long time for the opposition and other political parties to become vocal on the Hathras incident, which was said to be the fallout of the failure of police, organisers and the local administration. Barring some mild attacks on the UP government, the opposition preferred to remain almost silent in the initial 72 hours of the incident. The lull, senior journalists and locals said, was due to Narayan Sakar Vishwa Hari’s political clout and strong influence, especially among the Dalits of western Uttar Pradesh. A senior journalist cited it as the only reason why political bigwigs avoid taking Bhole Baba’s name.

On July 5, Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi, was perhaps the first to launch a staggering attack on UP Government and met the aggrieved family members in Hathras. On his visit to Hathras, Gandhi said, “It is a matter of grief that so many families have suffered, so many have lost their lives. I don’t want to speak through a political prism, but there have been some lapses on part of the administration. There have been mistakes, which should be identified.” Besides, he also wrote to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, demanding a hike in the ex-gratia amount.

Gandhi was followed by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati to launch an attack on the UP Government. In her statement on July 6, the BSP supremo, while expressing grief over the Hathras stampede, said the UP Government, instead of doing politics, should take stern action on the matter. Besides, she also gave a mantra and made an appeal to the people of Dalit community to not to fall prey to such Babas. In her post dated July 6, the BSP supremo stated that the poor, Dalits and oppressed etc. in the country should not get carried away by the superstition and hypocrisy of many other babas like Bhole Baba of Hathras to get rid of their poverty and all other miseries. “Instead of relying upon such Babas, Dalits must opt the path of Baba Bhimrao Ambedkar to bring change to their destiny,” she said. She further stated that strict action should be taken against the religious preacher and others who are guilty.

Similarly, Samajwadi Party (SP) Chief Akhilesh Yadav on July 6, blamed UP Government for hiding its failure in Hathras stampede by making minor arrests. The SP chief on his ‘X’ handle had also tagged a letter, addressed to him in which a resident of Mainpuri district claimed that his father has been wrongly framed in connection with stampede and insisted that his father has no link with the incident. His post further read that to hide the failure in the Hathras incident, UP Government wanted to shed the responsibility of the incident by making petty arrests.

But the question is as to what makes Hathras stampede the most trending issue among the political parties and why did they prefer to remain silent initially? The answer to this question lies with UP’s political analysts, who defined the change as a ‘politically motivated’ one, aimed to capitalise the sentiments ahead of upcoming bye-elections and the 2027 Assembly polls.

“Political parties often prioritise votes over individual voters, as seen in the case of Narayan Sakar Hari, alias Bhole Baba, and his significant following among Dalits in Western Uttar Pradesh (UP). Baba’s substantial influence in the region initially made political parties hesitant to address the issue, as they were uncertain about its potential impact on their voter base. Western UP is a region marked by diverse communities, including Gurjar, Jat, Meo, Rajput, Kayastha, and various Dalit groups. Among these, the Dalits are the dominant demographic, with over 50 lakh Dalits across the region, particularly in Agra, Hathras, and Mathura, where they form a significant voter bloc,” said Shashikant Pandey, head department of political sciences, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow.

Pandey further said that due to a lack of information about Bhole Baba and his programs on the internet, and the reports about his massive following among Dalits in West UP, political parties were initially skeptical about addressing the issue. However, as more details emerged and the situation began to draw media attention, political parties became vocal on the issue, aiming to capitalise on the sentiments of the people ahead of the bypolls and the 2027 State Assembly elections.

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