Mayawati derails Dalit politics: Is there redemption in the future? - Hindustan Times
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Mayawati derails Dalit politics: Is there redemption in the future?

BySunita Aron
Jun 12, 2024 05:58 PM IST

There is restlessness in her core voters as BSP is the only party run by Dalits for Dalits, and it represents new horizon of Dalit assertiveness

After forming a majority government in 2007 in Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) national president Mayawati often used to stoke the political ambitions of Dalits with her stirring statement: “If a Dalit party (BSP) can give chief minister to the largest state of the country, why can’t it give the nation its first Dalit prime minister?”

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati (File) PREMIUM
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati (File)

It was the vision and mission of Kanshi Ram, who systematically built a Dalit movement in the country by creating three institutions- BAMCEF (Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation) in 1978, DS4 (Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti) in 1991 and the BSP in 1984. And he wanted to fulfill BR Ambedkar’s clarion call to Dalits, ‘Capture this temple of power (Parliament) for your emanicipation.’

Kanshi Ram raised the community’s hunger for power as until then the country only had a Dalit deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram (1977-1979).

His soft-spoken daughter Meira Kumar became the first Dalit woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha (2004-2009) but she failed to step into her father's shoes.

By then Kanshi Ram's acolyte , Mayawati, had already arrived on UP’s political horizon virtually creating history in the state on two major fronts in 2007.

First, she had reconstructed the formidable rainbow coalition of Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits. It is on the strength of this very coalition that the Congress had ruled the state for about four decades since Independence. Second, she broke the 14-year-long coalition jinx to head a single-party majority government in the 2007 state assembly elections.

By then, she had been Uttar Pradesh chief minister thrice – in 1995 for 137 days, 184 days in 1997 and 1 year and 118 days in 2002. She was a firebrand leader of a regional party who dictated terms to mainstream parties while forming government or entering into electoral alliances.

After her achievement in 2007, ' Dalit ki Beti' Mayawati overnight became a national figure, who everyone believed, would fill a vacuum left behind by Jagjivan Ram, the tallest Dalit leader the country had produced.

That did not happen. She also lost her pan India image. But her rise to power gave voice to Dalits and she started enjoying propriety rights on them. They stood behind her like a rock as it was for the first time someone from their own caste was heading the government, a dream they had always cherished since the party came into existence in 1984.

BSP for them was a party ‘by Dalits and for Dalits'

After its formation, the BSP rose in every election. In 1989, the BSP polled 9.41% votes winning 13 seats, in 1991 9.44 % votes and 12 seats, in 1993, in alliance with SP, BSP won 67 seats and polled 11.12 % votes. Nothing could stop her as she won a majority in 2007 - polling 30.43% votes and winning 206 seats in a house of 403.

Thereafter the decline started as, within five years, in 2012 her number of seats came down to 80 and poll percentage to 25% votes, which further declined to 22.12% in 2017 with 19 seats and 12.9% in 2022 with one seat.

In 2014 , BSP became the third largest national party of India in terms of vote percentage, having 4.2% of the vote across the country but gaining no seats. BSP still retains the national party status.

The vote percentage in 2024 general elections dipped down to 9.32% from where the BSP had started its electoral journey in 1989. And she desperately needed a dose of power to resurrect BSP.

She decided to keep all her options open.

In run-up to the 2024 elections, Mayawati even gave a statement favouring a coalition government at the Centre, which she said, would be in the interest of the country as it will have the support of all the castes and communities.

Mayawati’s statement was in line with Kanshi Ram's advocacy for ‘ lame governments that walked on crutches as majority governments were despotic towards Bahujan Samaj. He often used to say, “Till our Bahujan Samaj is fully prepared to rule the country we should render kamjor’ (weak) governments and not ‘mazboot’ (strong) ones”.

However, with no seat in Parliament, she could not share power like Apna Dal and Rashtriya Lok Dal.

Set back to Dalit Movement

The major setback is to the Dalit movement which has been taken several years back. The politically conscious Dalits, who understand the power of their vote, stand disillusioned and divided.

A Dalit activist from western UP, Satish Prakash, while hailing the role Dalits played in stopping BJP in the tracks, felt Mayawati will have to reinvent herself as well as the BSP to attract new voters, the youth, who have not suffered untouchability. He said while Dalits don't doubt her intentions, there is a question mark on her policies. She must know, ' jo ladega, wohi jeetega' (the fighter would win the battle.)

On the rise of Chandrashekhar Azad of Bhim Army, who won the Nagina Lok Sabha seat, Prakash said: “Either the BSP should not have contested the seat or given a stronger candidate. What message BSP sends when its candidate gets barely 12,000 votes against Azad?"

But MP Ahirwar of Benaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi , actively engaged in Dalit politics in eastern UP, is confident that the BSP will be back in 2027.

"There was a time when we were contesting elections without a symbol. Now we have our symbol, we have a strong leadership and a competent successor to take forward the party,” Ahirwar said, adding that Mayawati will launch Akash Anand again as the party struggles and prepares for 2027 state assembly polls.

Dalit intellectuals are holding meetings to discuss the way forward

But then another Dalit activist, Satya Prakash Teetal from Agra, demanded an answer. “Why did she not ally with opposition alliance? BJP couldn't have formed the government”.

Knowing her party lacked the tenacity to fight against a mighty BJP and a feisty opposition alliance, she had decided to trek solo and had advised all “…to be careful of tomorrow’s political embarrassment as it cannot be predicted today who will need whom in the future”.

Mayawati had the option to be a winner or a spoiler. She opted for the latter and in the process, the BSP, which is credited for giving an assertive voice to a whole community, touched its nadir.

The Way Forward

While Mayawati is blaming one and all – from her cadre, to her voter, minorities for party’s poor performance in the 2024 elections, fact remains alone should take the blame for the electoral debacle.

Mayawati’s decision to change candidates seemingly to damage the electoral prospects of the opposition alliance gave her the label of ‘BJP’s B team’ and her decision to withdraw her firebrand nephew and party’s successor Akash Anand from campaigning alienated her core voters.

After she became inactive, they vested their hopes in Akash. And when the Jatavs and Scheduled Caste community wanted her to fight for them, their rights, their Constitution, the fire in her belly was missing.

Mayawati addressed 30 rallies, which appeared lacklustre despite the crowds that thronged the venue .

Is it the end?

Perhaps not. Despite the fact that another claimant of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram's legacy Chandrashekhar Azad will be in Parliament, walking and talking the language young Dalits want to hear.

Mayawati will have to relaunch Akash Anand, her nephew, to resurrect the party as after 2027 Dalits might look to her or the BSP again; as of now, they have not lost the hope or faith in BSP.

Also, Azad lacks the robust organisation, the vast Dalit network that Kanshi Ram had assiduously built over the years.

Ahirwar says, it's not easy to do Dalit politics and survive in a system dominated by the Manuvad (Brahmanism). The upper caste driven parties stymied rise of several Dalit leaders. BSP is the only party of Dalits and run by Dalits in the country.

Mayawati wrote in her book, ‘Mere Sangharshmay Jeevan Evam Bahujan Movement ka Safarnaama’ (Broadly: An account of the Dalit movement and my political struggles): “Just as BSP today is a symbol of Bahujan Samaj’s dignity, Mayawati, in the opinion of intellectuals, has acquired such a standing in Indian politics wherein people may criticise her, even condemn her, but nobody can ignore her.’

So far, her strength has been her ability to transfer her votes and for this she needs to hold her core voters who are still hungry for power.

Sunita Aron is a consulting editor with the HT based in Lucknow. You can find her on X as @overto. The weekly column, Keeping up with UP tackles everything from politics to social and cultural mores in the country's most populous state. The views expressed are personal.

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