The chances of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati realising her prime ministerial ambition hinge critically on the success of her social engineering strategy. She can only stake a claim if she wins a sufficiently large chunk of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats.
The strategy involves inducing communities other than her own — specially Brahmins and Muslims — to vote for her party, despite its image of being staunchly pro-Dalit.
It worked marvellously in the May 2007 assembly elections, winning her a majority in a deeply divided state where no party had pulled off the same feat for the previous 16 years. But can it be repeated again?
Unlikely. The journey east from the state capital Lucknow shows cracks appearing in the formidable caste combination. Forward castes, particularly Brahmins, are speaking a different language now.
Mayawati’s recent decision to dissolve the Brahmin and Vaishya bhaichara samitis (brotherhood groups) following the defeat of her candidate in the Ballia assembly bypoll — for which she reportedly blamed the Brahmins — seems to have made these castes suspicious about her “political motives.”
No doubt the BSP’s Brahmin mascot and party general secretary, Satish Chandra Mishra, has been going all out to tell his community that its best interests lie in backing “Behenji.” “The days of any caste in the state being terrorised are over. You have seen what the law and order situation was during the previous government and what it is like now. This is a government for all,” Mishra has been saying in rallies in eastern UP.
But Brahmin organisations do not share Mishra’s enthusiasm. “Voters vote differently in assembly and Lok Sabha elections,” said Dr Kameshwar Upadhyay, Brahmin scholar and convenor of a Brahmin organisation, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidwat Parishad. “We need representatives who can effectively lobby for our requirements in Delhi. We need a government which can think and work beyond caste considerations.”
In a state bitterly divided on caste lines, any rapprochement between forward castes, backward castes and Dalits can only be temporary. “The assembly election was an exception,” said Upadhyaya. “There was no other alternative to Mulayam’s government, which had become extremely unpopular, except Mayawati” Upadhyay said.
The BSP dismissed the Brahmins discontent with the party, as pure media creation. “We have given the maximum number of tickets to Brahmins,” said S.P. Maurya, BSP state party chief. “There is nothing to worry about.”
“Mayawati sprung a surprise in the assembly elections by going for the impossible,” said Sanjay Srivastava, professor in political science at Banaras Hindu University (BHU). “A BSP leader approaching the Brahmins was something unthinkable. It was a major surprise element in the state’s politics. But this time there is no such thing.”