Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's mentor Kanshi Ram often used to say, "I give total freedom to my opponents to divide and rule Bahujan Samaj. But it is my right to unite them and get them their forfeited rights." Though Kanshi Ram could not unite the Bahujan Samaj that 'forms 85% of the population', his mission succeeded in bringing Dalits and the most backwards under the umbrella of Bahujan Samaj Party.
Perhaps Kanshi Ram couldn't foresee that their struggle for political identity and empowerment would one day politically isolate dalits fighting social untouchability. The 'political untouchability', especially of Jatavs (Mayawati's caste), amongst the dalits in an intensely polarised UP has now become a disturbing trend.
Few parties and candidates visit the homes of dalits to seek their support as it is presumed that they, more so the Jatavs, will climb the elephant only. Analysing the voting in his Samastarhar village (central UP), farmer Ram Badan says: "Eighty per cent voted for Narendra Modi except for them."
The 'them' is for Mayawati's supporters.
During her reign, Mayawati was known for pursuing '85% (Bahujan Samaj) versus 15% (others) politics' while executing development projects. Her recent statement reminding dalits of how Bhim Rao Ambedkar launched a struggle against untouchability and embraced Buddhism is seen to have deepened the divide.
The division is also within those regarded her core voters, who prefer not to discuss their political choice unlike vociferous supporters of SP and BJP. While one section "will vote for Mayawati, whether she wins or loses", the other resents the "mistrust of non-BSP parties even if we vote for them".
Badri Narain of Dalit Resource Centre attributes this 'new phenomenon' to the cracks in Mayawati's social engineering that had brought dalits and Brahmins together. "Dalits became less isolated after Brahmins, who can raise or reduce respectability of any caste in the society, joined hands. Now the erosion of BSP's Brahmin base has again isolated them," he says.
Other dalit experts and leaders view this political untouchability as an extension of social untouchability.
According to Congress leader Vijay Prakash, befriending Brahmins was a temporary phase in Mayawati's politics built around consolidating dalits by abusing the upper castes. The divisions thus created had a bearing on the state's bureaucracy too.
Meerut-based Ravi Prakash, a former student leader of Charan Singh University, has a different take. "They wanted dalits to remain downtrodden and docile. After Kanshi Ram empowered and united them under the BSP banner, other parties stopped approaching the dalits because they did not want to waste time on hathiwallas," he says. But, he adds, even the BSP has started to take the dalits for granted. "Social activism thus needs to be delinked from political activity."
Agra-based Devi Nandan Sone feels the problem lies in twisting Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram's socio-political vision for the emancipation of dalits to acquire power. Mayawati is thus seen as isolating her vote bank from the political mainstream in trying to unite the Bahujan Samaj for her ambitions.