The era of 1990s saw the rise of a woman from the Dalit community, named Mayawati, in one of the largest, most populous and “caste ridden” state of Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati succeeded the political ground prepared by the founder of Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), Kanshiram whose Dalit movement rose and challenged the erstwhile political narrative of the country in the 1980s. Mayawati rose to the highest political success by serving a tenure of four terms as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in the years 1995, 1997, 2002 and 2007. This political feat was indeed one which was unheard of as it redefined the predominantly patriarchal and upper caste dominated political and social system of India. The success of Mayawati and BSP can largely be attributed to the strategic political approach to rely on the culmination of the Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins. However, with the rise of  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the centre, the narrative has largely shifted against the prospects of BSP as BJP relied  on the politics based on the culmination of the backward and higher castes as witnessed in the 2017 assembly elections. These elections saw a major dip in the number of the seats for the BSP to as low as 19 seats. The party has shown a considerable decline in its political and electoral performance which has resulted in doubts about the future of the party, the leadership and the relevance of the Dalit politics. 

The party rose at a time when the Dalit movement was at its peak and had set out with the goals of achieving “social transformation and economic emancipation”. Mayawati took the reins of the party in 1989 and achieved significant electoral successes. In the Assembly elections of 2007, the party won 206 out of 403 seats. The party received huge support from the Dalits, Muslims and surprisingly, Brahmins. The victory was largely attributed to the fact that the party had made a strategic shift in its core ideology by bringing in Brahmins into its fold. However, the party was soon left to lose in the 2012 elections to the Samajwadi Party (SP). The BSP lost its confidence and trust on issues like corruption, financial scandals and self-aggrandizement. The party managed to gain 80 seats as compared to SP which garnered 224 seats and a 29.13% of vote share emerging victorious in the 2012 elections. Interestingly, the SP relied on its vote bank of the Yadav community and shifted loyalty of Muslim community. However, the BSP had not lost its confidence among the Dalits, especially the Jatavs.

The political tables took altogether different turns in the 2017 Assembly Elections with the entry of the BJP. The Bharatiya Janata Party got hold of 312 seats with 39.7 percent of vote share. Notably the BSP’s seats came down to 19 with a vote share of 22.2%. The SP managed a 21.9 % of vote share with 47 seats. A number of factors can be ascribed to the apparent decline of the party electoral strength in the state of UP and its limited expansion in other states. It has been noted that Mayawati has usually played the politics of keeping aloof, standing independently in elections and not forging alliances which has restrained its expansion in other states like Punjab, Bihar, Kerala amongst others. There has been an obvious cultural and social disconnect between the party and these regions. BSP’s apparent reluctance in seeking alliances with the regional parties has further hindered its growth. Apart from issues like corruption and bad governance, the party is suffering from a crisis “within”. There have been instances of extreme arrogance on the part of the leadership which has led to discord within the party. Mayawati has upset various leaders within the party by expelling veterans like Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar who had been with the party since the time of the founder Kanshiram. Further, she had suspended various other leaders for alleged anti party activities. This hints towards the culture of “intolerance” and “egoism” prevalent within the party leadership. 

However, what should be significantly noted is the failure of the party and the leadership in translating the philosophical goals to economic and social realities. The promises of the party have remained limited to construction of statutes, filling political positions with Brahmins, and a string of scandals tied to its name. This has seriously raised the questions about the relevance of the party, as the representative and flagbearer of the Dalit movement and consciousness. The decline in the party’s strength looks like a decline in the idea of “mainstream” Dalit party. The rise of Bhim Sena has emerged as another alternative for the youth which is immensely attracted by this newly formed party. All this, alongside the crisis within the party, has put the BSP in difficult waters with elections arriving soon which more or less looks like a “do-or-die” situation for the party, leadership and the Dalit movement.

At this juncture, sticking on to their old ideological stance of mobilisation of Dalits alone, seems to be impractical. Clearly in the previous assembly and Lok Sabha elections, the non-Jatav Dalit vote bank has shifted in significant numbers towards the BJP. A pre-poll agreement between SP, BSP and INC is not on the cards considering the current developments as well their failure to produce the intended results during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The recourse in such a situation is either to take the risk of standing independent in the elections and face the mandate of the people or play it safe by forging a pre-poll alliance with the BJP.

Image courtesy: PTI

This article was written by Goutham K A, Associate, Projects at CPPR & Research intern Yashasvi Pandit. Views expressed by the authors are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Goutham K A
Goutham K A
Goutham K A is Project Associate at CPPR. He is a Computer Science and Engineering graduate from Government Engineering College, Thrissur and currently pursuing post-graduation in Political Science and International Relations from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Goutham is a frequent traveller, photography enthusiast and interested in regional, national and international political developments.

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