Mayawati-led BSP and Dalit politics in Maharashtra
In Maharashtra, leaders from both the Congress and the NCP are now weighing the possibility of wooing Dalit voters by getting an aggressive face like Mayawati’s as part of their coalition.Updated: Aug 14, 2018 01:02 IST
As they are trying to put together a coalition against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the coming elections, both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are keen on getting the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) on board.
It was the NCP chief Sharad Pawar who took initiative to get the BSP as part of the Congress-NCP-led coalition in Maharashtra. Apparently, Pawar discussed the possibility of BSP’s inclusion in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) when BSP supremo Mayawati and senior leader Satishchandra Mishra met him in New Delhi on July 25.
In Maharashtra, leaders from both the Congress and the NCP are now weighing the possibility of wooing Dalit voters by getting an aggressive face like Mayawati’s as part of their coalition.
The next Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Maharashtra could be a close fight between the ruling and the opposition parties—whether the BJP and the Shiv Sena contest together or separately.
In a close contest, the Dalit votes will be important. As of now, the coalition of opposition parties does not have any Dalit leader with a statewide appeal to seek votes for them. Of the two prominent Dalit leaders in Maharashtra, Ramdas Athawale has already announced that he will continue with the BJP-led coalition, which he had joined in 2014.
Though the Congress is keen on getting him on board, Prakash Ambedkar is playing a hardball. He has also indicated that he would prefer to put together a third front of likeminded parties. As a last resort, both the main opposition parties are willing to roll out the red carpet for Mayawati to make a second entry into Maharashtra politics.
The mood in the Congress-NCP camp is exactly the opposite of what it was a decade ago. In 2007, after the BSP won Uttar Pradesh assembly elections and Mayawati became the chief minister of India’s largest state on her own, she wanted a strong presence in Maharashtra.
The two parties were then in power in Maharashtra and opposed to the BSP getting a foothold in the state. They wanted the Dalit leaders in Maharashtra to be in control of the community’s votes and not Mayawati. There was a reason. The Congress-NCP leaders always found it easy to work with the established Dalit leaders in the state. They knew the latter’s brand of politics, their limited political ambitions and how far the latter would go.
They considered the Mayawati-led BSP as a much more aggressive party and were wary that the BSP would take a chunk of Dalit votes and would be open to aligning with any other party, even the BJP-Shiv Sena, as it had done earlier in Uttar Pradesh.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the BSP tried hard but couldn’t win any seat. It, however, bagged a significant amount of votes in the Vidarbha region.
Now in 2018-19, Congress-NCP leaders want the BSP on their side as they are preparing to counter the BJP. But then, can Mayawati and her BSP make an impact on Dalit politics in Maharashtra now?
There is considerable unease among the Dalits in Maharashtra following the Una and Bhima-Koregaon episodes. Also, there is unhappiness among the Dalit youth with regard to the existing leaders over their tame response to these issues. They want aggressive leaders.
Dalit politics in the state has been typical and has remained unchanged in decades. The parties with Dalit-centred agenda have remained fragmented. Established Dalit leaders are not much ambitious and have been aligning with the ruling or opposition parties to pursue their limited agenda through electoral politics.
Mayawati and her party work with a disciplined and aggressive approach. They aim at garnering a significant share of power. If they catch the fancy of Dalit voters, the existing leaders will have a tough time holding on to their support base.
The only hitch is that the BSP doesn’t have a strong local leader in Maharashtra and relies entirely on Mayawati’s ability to draw voters. In fact, in the state’s political circles, they say that the central leadership of the BSP doesn’t want any strong leader here. If that is the case, there are doubts about how long the BSP would go in Maharashtra. However, in such a scenario, Congress-NCP won’t mind befriending the BSP.