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OPINION | Mayawati Needs Wake up to Emergence of Dalit Leaders Like Chandrashekhar Azad, Jignesh Mevani

Far from plunging herself to rebuilding the BSP that suffered three serial electoral setbacks in the 2012 and 2017 assembly and in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Mayawati retreated into a shell.

Radhika Ramaseshan |

Updated:February 10, 2018, 10:59 AM IST
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OPINION | Mayawati Needs Wake up to Emergence of Dalit Leaders Like Chandrashekhar Azad, Jignesh Mevani
File photo of BSP chief Mayawati. (Getty Images)
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New Delhi: When Mayawati resigned from Rajya Sabha on July 18, 2017, it threw up a host of questions. Her beef was that she wasn’t allowed to have a full say on the violence unleashed against Dalits in West Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district by the BJP government.

Ironically, Mayawati woke up to atrocities nearly two months after they were inflicted. The former UP chief minister was fighting a battle against one of her closest aides, Naseemuddin Siddique, who was promptly kicked out of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) after accusing Mayawati of financial irregularities.

Far from plunging herself to rebuilding the BSP that suffered three serial electoral setbacks in the 2012 and 2017 assembly and in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Mayawati retreated into a shell. After the death of its founder, Kanshi Ram, the BSP has not exactly distinguished itself as an aggressive opposition that resorted to street fights and legislative means to corner the government, its principal political turf. Mayawati also did not reach out to the opposition in UP or nationally to explore the prospects of a broad coalition to confront the BJP.

She is not an adept organisational hand. The BSP’s structures down to the grassroots were conceptualised, created and strengthened by Kanshi Ram.

So it came as a surprise when on February 8, Rajya Sabha MP and Mayawati’s political confidant Satish Chandra Mishra announced that the BSP had forged an alliance with HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) for contesting the Karnataka polls.

The BSP had fought 175 of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka during the last assembly election in 2013 – won nothing, forfeited its deposits in 174 seats and secured a vote percentage of 1.16 percent. Embarrassingly, the vote percentage was nearly half of what it got in 2008 (2.83 percent).

Why then did the JD(S), that apparently fancies itself as a king and not a king-maker, seek out the BSP? Did the move portend the start of a churn in the Opposition, at least within parties that are outside the “mainstream” circumference defined by the Congress and BJP? Mishra made a distinction between Karnataka and the nation, claiming that while the BSP was ready to offer “issue-based” support to the Congress in Parliament, its current “focus” was on Karnataka.

Even if by a long stretch of the imagination, the BSP — whose many layered Dalit politics defy cast-iron calculations and projections — turns in a good showing in Karnataka, Mayawati will count as a serious entity only if she gets her act together in UP. As things stand, the lady is in for a long haul.

Statistics speak up for themselves. From a vote percentage of 30.43 percent polled and 206 (of 403) seats in the 2007 assembly polls, Mayawati was down to 19 seats and a vote share of 22. 23 percent in the BJP-dominated elections of 2017.

The Congress, SP’s and BSP’s vote percentages in the 2017 UP assembly polls (the Congress polled 22.04 percent and the SP 28.32 percent), add up to a figure that defies credulity and is nearly impossible to attain if the three coalesce against the BJP. Mention words like “secularism” and “inclusiveness” to give a veneer for such a regrouping and you have a recipe for disaster.

The prospect of a reverse and instinctual polarisation of Hindus will stare the “secular” parties in the face. The historical antagonisms between the well-off backward castes (who often align themselves with the SP) and the BSP’s Dalits are too well known to bear repetition.

The first challenge before Mayawati, therefore, is reclaiming the BSP’s Dalit, backward caste and Muslim base that dwindled when she was perceived as pandering excessively to the Jatavs, her sub-caste. The BSP’s backward caste voters found more attractive options in the SP and the BJP while the Muslims, who had gravitated towards her in the 2007 polls despite her three-time dalliance with the BJP, left her as soon as the SP looked winnable.

Over the years, the four-time UP CM has lost credible caste leaders such as Om Prakash Rajbhar (a cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath government), Babu Singh Kushwaha (who is embroiled in a mega corruption case but still commands a following among the Kushwahas of Bundelkhand and central UP), Dara Singh Chauhan (a minister in Yogi’s cabinet), RK Chaudhary, Gayacharan Dinkar, Ramashankar Vidyarthi, Swami Prasad Maurya and Siddiqui.

Mayawati forgot a valuable lesson imparted by Kanshi Ram: the BSP order was built on a nucleus of the Jatavs and Passis but it required to be fortified and replenished constantly with the addition of other castes so that the underpinning remained strong.

The second struggle would be to regain the trust quotient. Like the JD(S), nobody can predict which way Mayawati will go. Her mentor had obliterated the difference between ideology and opportunism when he jettisoned the “secular” SP and went with the BJP in 1995 so that Mayawati would become the UP CM.

She has remained faithful to Kanshi Ram’s refusal to make a distinction between “communalism” and “feudalism” on the grounds that both are “lethal” to Dalit interests. When the BSP entered the Gujarat fray in the last assembly polls, it was alleged Mayawati was out to “split” Dalit votes and help the BJP. The charge was unsubstantiated because the BSP polled just 0.7 percent votes, less than what Independents and NOTA secured. Even in Karnataka, it is insinuated that the BSP-JD(S) combine has been brought together up by the BJP to “damage” the Congress.

Finally, Mayawati has to wake up to the emergence of a new phalanx of Dalit leaders such as Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, the Bhim Army founder who’s in jail after he was slapped with the National Security Act and Gujarat’s Jignesh Mevani. Her politics of expediency may have run its course.

Of course, it is arduous for Ravan and Mewani to build a party and make it electorally productive. What Mayawati has going for her is Kanshi Ram’s legacy that still motivates and inspires the BSP cadre.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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