Why Mayawati's Dalit-Muslim Formula can be a Jumbo Stride for her Party
BSP chief Mayawati is looking to wrest power from the Samajwadi party in assembly elections next year.
Lucknow: Kanshiram, a champion of the Dalit struggle and founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, had often stressed on the social and political solidarity of Dalits and Muslims. The late leader had often said: “Dalits have been cheated for the past 4,000 years and Muslims for the past 50 years. If they can come together and unite, overthrowing this oppressive system and the government will not be tough.”
However, this wish was more or less put to rest by his political successor, BSP president Mayawati, who forged an unnatural alliance of Dalits and Brahmins to quickly ascend to political power. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party formed a government with absolute majority in Uttar Pradesh in 2007. But the gains were short-lived. The superficiality of the alliance was evident soon, with the alliance showing clear signs of withering in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections; and then almost coming apart at the seams in the 2012 state assembly polls with less than 100 seats.
The worst was yet to come. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Mayawati's politics was pushed to the wall and almost made redundant, with the BSP failing to secure even a single seat. The ‘Modi wave’ completely swept away the votes of upper castes and that of a section of Dalits, thus bringing the elephant crashing down.
“It was at this stage that realisation set in,” says a senior leader close to Mayawati. “It was time to go back to the basics, to the idea once floated by Manyawar Kanshiram.” The party figured out that if it really wants to ensure that 15 percent would not rule over the remaining 85 percent, it would have to look towards the Muslims, especially the backward Dalit Muslims called the “pasmanda” (backward and downtrodden). And it was since then that the party slowly and silently started working towards building on the Dalit-Muslim combination.
What followed was part of this realisation at the political level. Mayawati not only strongly took up the issues of atrocities against Dalits — be it the Rohith Vemula suicide or attack on Dalits by cow vigilantes in Una town of Gujarat — she was equally vocal against atrocities on Muslims like that of the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. Very subtly, both Behenji and her party tried to emphasise the point that it was both Dalits and Muslims who had been the victims of the Hindutva forces who gained during Narendra Modi's rule.
Now, with crucial UP assembly polls round the corner, Mayawati is almost entirely banking on this Muslim-Dalit formula. With more than 130 Muslim candidates in upcoming UP elections.,there is no doubt left to it. But an important counter question also is whether the proposed alliance will end up as just a temporary marriage of parliamentary opportunism, or whether it will reflect any social churning on the ground where a large number of Muslims are slowly identifying themselves with the Hindu Dalits.
A significant pointer to this realisation can well be a recently held event in Lucknow, where, for the first time, hundreds of Dalits and Muslims came together for a common lunch organised at the picturesque white Baradari of Lucknow by the Jamiat Ulama and National confederation of Dalit Adivasi Organisation.
Dalit activist Ram Kumar, who was a key participant, observes: "Both Dalits and Muslims have been at the receiving end of cow vigilantism spearheaded by radical Hindutva organisations. Muslims like Akhlaq in UP's Dadri were targeted on charges of eating beef, while Dalits in Una and elsewhere were assaulted for skinning dead cows. Hence solidarity, both social and political, is warranted between the two.”
But then the counter question is: Does caste politics apply to Muslims? Earlier, religious leaders were shy of answering this, but not now. Says former Rajya Sabha MP Maulana Mehmood Madni, who is also the general secretary of Jamiat Ulema: "Islam has no place for caste or discrimination. But Muslims in India have castes. It's time the Muslim community organises itself on caste lines. Pasmanda Muslims and Dalits need to come on the same platform.”
The rising consciousness of Dalit-Backward Muslims, or 'Pasmanda Muslims', can be of major significance across the country, especially in Hindi heartland states of UP and Bihar. Lucknow-based social activist Ashish Awasthi points out that the case of attack on Dalits in Una is more significant for the kind of joint Dalit Muslim protests which emerged. It indicated the changing mood on the ground.
On the question whether this will translate into political consolidation, Awasthi says, "Parliamentary adjustments alone can't be the way forward for long term radical politics. Social consolidation is required. Mayawati's BSP at the moment seems keen only on electoral gains. However her electoral gambit of Dalit-Muslim alliance might pay dividends given the prevailing mood in both communities." '
But whether this will reap dividends for BSP in the upcoming state polls is still an imponderable.