Thursday, January 26, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Her Sarvajan Test (Christophe Jaffrelot)

Her Sarvajan Test

Christophe Jaffrelot Posted online: Thu Jan 26 2012, 03:09 hrs

The building of a pan-Indian Dalit party was the goal of B.R. Ambedkar
for 20 years. He successively initiated the Independent Labour Party
(1935), the Scheduled Castes Federation (1942) and the Republican
Party of India (1956). But none of these could make an impact, largely
because Dalit jatis were not prepared to join hands and support the
same party. In fact, the Mahars — Ambedkar's caste fellows — were the
only ones who tended to support his parties.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, founded in 1984 by a militant Ambedkarite,
Kanshi Ram, has gradually overcome this handicap. In the course of the
past two decades, it has emerged as a full-fledged Dalit party,
largely because it was in a position to cash in on the development of
a Dalit counter-culture (look at the Dalit poetry) and positive
discriminations programmes which have given birth to a Dalit middle
class whose dedicated members were keen to organise themselves and
their caste fellows.

In its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh, where the BSP could rely on the
Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), a
movement of mostly Dalit public-sector employees that Kanshi Ram had
developed from the 1970s onwards, the BSP became the third largest
party in 1989. It then benefited from the impact it could make as a
coalition partner of the Samajwadi Party at the helm of the government
of Uttar Pradesh in 1993-95. In this capacity, it advocated policies
intended to promote the interests of the Dalits at large, such as the
Ambedkar Village Scheme. Mayawati, the BSP leader, repeated the same
strategy when she became chief minister of UP with the support of the
BJP in 1996-97 and 2003. Eventually, the BSP won a majority of seats
in the state assembly in 2007.

While in office in UP, the BSP has combined symbolic and substantial
measures. On the one hand, it has given the name of Dalit
personalities to districts and stadiums and built a large number of
Ambedkar statues in order to visibly inscribe the subaltern in the
monumental history and public space of India — and, thereby, to foster
their self-esteem. On the other hand, it has accomplished the fullest
implementation of quotas ever achieved in the state. It has also
strictly implemented the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, which has started to transform
social relations at the local level. The BSP has gradually reinforced
its stand among Dalits at large, so much so that it is not, any more,
the party of one jati, the Jatavs (the caste of Mayawati), but the
party of most of the UP Dalits. In 2009, according to a CSDS survey,
85 per cent of the Jatavs, 64 per cent of the Dusadhs (or Pasis) and
61 per cent of other Dalits have voted for the BSP.

With 21 per cent of the Dalits voting for the BSP (against 27 per cent
voting for the Congress), according to CSDS data, the party has become
the third largest party in India (by vote share), ahead of the
Communist Party of India (Marxist), in 2009. This is the first
caste-based and caste-oriented party climbing on to the podium of
national parties. To be recognised as a "national party", a party
needs, among other things, to win more than 5 per cent of valid votes,
and the BSP received more than 6 per cent valid votes in 2009.

But can 2007 be repeated? In 2007, the BSP was able to aggregate
additional voters to its Dalit votebank. The 2007 UP elections were
the testing ground of a strategy initiated by Kanshi Ram in the late
1990s, which consists of opening up not only to non-Dalit people —
something he had always done, right from the creation of the BAMCEF,
as evident from the name of the organisation itself — but also to
non-Bahujans, that is to the upper castes, provided they were not
given a share of power that would be superior to their share of the
population. As a result, Kanshi Ram nominated an increasing number of
upper-caste candidates in the 1999 elections, in proportion to their
percentage in the population.

Mayawati pursued the same agenda. She simply adapted it to the
conditions of UP where a Dalit-dominated party like the BSP was in a
good position to attract Brahmins and Vaishyas. These two groups had
more interests in common with Dalits than with the Rajputs. In fact,
the common enemy of Dalits and Banias as well as Brahmins was the
nexus formed, around Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, by the
dominant OBCs — including the Yadavs — and the Rajputs, both landed
groups which attempted to rule village life and which the upper castes
regarded as responsible for the declining law-and-order situation.
This strategy culminated in the ticket distribution Mayawati made in
2007. Of 402 candidates, the BSP nominated 86 Brahmins, 91 Dalits, 38
Vaishyas and as many Rajputs, and about 60 Muslims. While the number
of OBCs were fewer than in 2002, they were in greater numbers — 110.
This strategy produced good results. The BSP could rely on its Dalit
supporters in such a way that it could ask them to vote for
upper-caste, Muslim or OBC candidates who brought with them additional
suffrage from their own community. The BSP's transferable votebank and
this "plus vote" explained the 2007 success: not only did the BSP
continue to make progress among the Dalits with 77 per cent of the
votes (as against 69 per cent in 2002), but it also attracted 16 per
cent of the upper castes (as against 5 per cent in 2002), 27 per cent
of the non-Yadav OBC and 17 per cent of Muslims. The BSP was on its
way to becoming a catch-all party.

Whether such an achievement can be repeated, will depend upon a large
number of factors: the assessment of Mayawati's policies among the
upper castes, their fear of a comeback by Mulayam Singh Yadav, the
division of the non-Dalit vote among the SP, the Congress and the BJP
and, last but not least, the impact of the coming together of many
small Muslim parties.

The writer is a senior research fellow at CERI, Sciences Po, Paris,


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