The Bahujan Samaj Party, which emerged from a Dalit-Bahujan movement, seems to be declining. Its decline may be seen on both the level of electoral performance as well as the grassroots effectiveness of its political presence. In spite of various conjectures by political analysts, no one is in a position to predict clearly the future of the Dalit-Bahujan movement in Uttar Pradesh. Even after the decline of the BSP, till poverty, marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination continue in one form or another, the Dalit-Bahujan movement will continue. But the question is, who will lead this movement in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh as successor of Mayawati.
The Bahujan Samaj Party led by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati brought drastic changes in Indian democracy and carved a space for Dalit-Bahujan representation in it. The BSP prepared conditions for making 'DM and CM' from the Dalit community and provided them confidence. It tried to generate social, cultural and political resources which provided the community dignity and self-respect to some extent. But, slowly, the BSP is growing politically weaker and unable to effectively respond to changing aspirations of marginalised communities in the region. The party, in a very real sense, is facing a leadership crisis. No second level of competent leadership is being groomed in the BSP. All the leaders who were built up by Kanshi Ram, contemporaries of Mayawati, either left or were ousted from the party. Another kind of second-rung leadership, which emerged during the reign of Mayawati, also left the party due to various reasons. So the BSP's future is gradually growing bleaker. Its only hope is that a strong vote base of Jatavs and a few other disadvantaged communities is largely still with the BSP in various parts of Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati recently celebrated her 65th birthday as Jankalyankari Diwas. At this time, the question I am going to address, which has been asked by various political analysts, is that who will be the successor of Mayawati within the BSP? It is true that Mayawati has neither declared her successor nor provided power and authority to anyone within the party. She has kept supreme command in her hand. Sometimes there is an impression that Satish Chandra Mishra is next in line to 'Behenji' in terms of taking decisions in the party. It is difficult to measure the influence of Mishra in the BSP but there is very little chance of him to becoming the heir of Mayawati’s base votes who are mostly Jatavs in UP. Mayawati’s Dalit base may not accept him as a natural leader.
There is some speculation that Aakash, cousin of Mayawati, who became active in the parliamentary elections in 2019, may emerge as her successor. This may be possible but Mayawati has not given any signal within the party about this. Even if she gives some indication, the transfer of power from Behenji to Aakash will not be easy. It may produce a lot of dissension among leaders and cadres of BSP.
Dalit youth leader Chandrashekhar Azad is already claiming to be the future leader of the Dalit-Bahujan movement in Uttar Pradesh. He is pushing hard to make a dent in the Dalit base of the BSP. He has demonstrated his political ambition by forming the Azad Samaj Party (ASP). He is trying to use each and every opportunity to prove before the Dalit community that he is their own leader who is raising their issues strongly. He is building up his political image through political action at the grassroots of marginalised communities.
One the one hand Mayawati seems absent on various issues related with the Dalit cause, while on the other Chandrashekhar is showing his constant presence on each and every issue related with the sufferings of the community. These overtures are making Chandrashekhar more and more popular among Dalits. However, Mayawati maintains influence over almost all sections of the Dalit population- across generations and gender. So, Chandrashekhar needs to expand his territory of influence from Dalit youths to older people and also among women. For Chandrashekhar, the road to unseat Mayawati as the chief Dalit-Bahujan leader is a long one. If no alternative to Mayawati emerges within Dalit- Bahujan politics, the vote base of the BSP may be fragmented and usurped by various mainstream political parties such as Congress, BJP and Samajwadi Party. If that happens, the Dalit community may lose the democratic strength which it derives through consolidation and consensus.