BSP not first choice of Dalits in Maharashtra
Though Bahujan Samaj Party emerged on top over other political parties as the single largest party in UP, it has failed to become a first choice of Dalits in Maharashtra in general and Nagpur especially where Kanshiram started his political works in the late 70's.
The BSP founder first set up Backward and Minority Communities’ Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in 1973 when he was in Pune and served as a Scientific Officer in Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and started work in Nagpur. Within a couple of years, he became darling among dalit employees in state and central government offices. During the period, RBI Nagpur was one of the influential set up of the backward leader.
He launched a Marathi weekly, Bahujan Nayak, from Nagpur in 1980 to spread his ideology. Next year he formed Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsha Samiti (DS4) and tried to strengthen his clout among Dalit masses in the region.
However, splinter RPI factions in the region always opposed his organisations and doubted his credentials. To give BAMCEF a befitting reply, the RPI even launched its trade union organisation DITU (Democratic Indian Trade Union) and CASTRIBE in late 70's.
But a determined Kanshiram preferred the region, which was once the karmakshetra (working place) of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and started his own daily newspaper Bahujan Samaj Times, a Marathi daily from Nagpur on March 31, 1984. In the same year, he started English and Hindi editions of the paper from Delhi. However, it could not attract the desired people and within a year both dailies were folded up.
In the same year, he launched the political party on April 14 on Dr Ambedkar's birth anniversary and held a massive public meeting at Nagpur on September 25, 1984. The party fielded as many as 253 candidates from all over the country and 33 from Maharashtra in 1984 Lok Sabha elections. However, it could not get a single seat. In Maharashtra, it did not field a single candidate in 1985 state elections when all the RPI factions united and put common candidates. But in 1990 state polls, it fielded candidates from all the 66 assembly constituencies of Vidarbha and 104 in rest of Maharashtra. Though it could not get a single seat, it succeeded to show its impressive presence in the elections.
Krishna Ubale, founder Maharashtra president of BSP pointed out that there was an unusual organizational skills in Kanshiram that was still lacking among RPI leadership in Maharashtra.
Milind Fulzhele, one of the initial activists, working with Kanshiram felt that non-acceptance of Kanshiram by vested interest dalit leaders forced him to shift his base from Nagpur to northern states of the country. And soon it succeeded to establish its considerable presence in UP, Punjab and MP. Frustrated from the Maharashtrian leaders, he might have trusted Mayawati and groomed her as his successor, he further pointed out. Kanshiram often used to tell his followers that Maharashtra, and particularly Nagpur was his first choice to work. But he was not accepted by Mahars in the region. “I confronted with Kanshiram for saying so and pointed out that it was dalit people of Maharashtra that funded and supported him during his initial period,” Ubale said and informed that he left the organisation on the issue.
Finally, the BSP got nine seats in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) in 2002, surpassing the splinter groups of RPI and emerged as the symbol of a growing political role for the Dalits in the region. It could not maintain it in the just-concluded civic elections as BSP got only six seats. But the party got 2-3 seats in almost all the ZP in the region and municipalities’ polls. It was considered a major success for the BSP that it even got three seats in Amravati civic elections.
Bhimrao Vaidya, one of the close associates of late Kanshiram and founder editor of Bahujan Samaj Times said that Kanshiram had a larger understanding of social change and was able to unite various underprivileged sections of the society. His scientific vision and relentless works among Dalits and other backwards have finally given the dividends in the largest state of the country-UP.