In Mayawati's defeat, there's hope for Dalits
Mar 7, 2012
Renaming districts after Dalit leaders such as Ambedkar and erecting
giant statues of Kanshi Ram and herself to project 'Dalit pride' may
have helped India's first Dalit woman chief minister to play her caste
card. But clearly, what the people in India's most populous state seem
to want is development.
This has emerged as the central message that politicians will take
home from the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh where the
people have rejected Mayawati and given a clear mandate to the
Samajwadi Party (SP) led by the dynamic and youthful Akhilesh Yadav.
The SP's clear majority with 224 seats out of a total of 403 is
nothing short of spectacular.
There are clear parallels in the voter behavior in Uttar Pradesh. AFP
Where Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came to represent a
pompous, arrogant and corrupt government which spent huge amounts on
raising statues and memorials, the young and charismatic Akhilesh
Yadav spoke the language of development and the promise of a new UP.
This helped Akhilesh overshadow his father and veteran politician
Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had been rejected by the voters in the 2007
assembly elections because of widespread lawlessness and insecurity in
Thus, apart from the traditional support from Muslims and the OBC
Yadav caste to which Mulayam belongs, the SP emerged as an attractive
choice for Dalits and voters across caste barriers over the incumbent
BSP. Valiant efforts by Rahul Gandhi with support from sister Priyanka
to revive an organisationally-weak Congress in UP failed, while it was
another lost opportunity for the BJP to improve its numbers.
In fact, there are clear parallels in the voter behavior in Uttar
Pradesh and the recently-held municipal elections in Maharashtra when
it comes to the promise of change and dynamism. In both the states,
regional parties such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the
Shiv Sena performed far better than the national parties. While both
states have sizeable Dalit populations (21 percent in UP and 18.5
percent in Maharashtra), like Akhilesh in UP, it was MNS's Raj
Thackeray in Maharashtra who won the support of a large section of the
voters, especially the youth and Dalits, across caste barriers.
The fact that both the SP and the MNS won seats in reserved
constituencies goes to show that they had the support of other
communities in addition to the Dalits. SP, for example, gained
significantly in the Mayawati-stronghold of Poorvanchal dominated by
Dalits, Kurmis and OBCs indicating the strong anti-incumbency trend
and their vote for change under Akhilesh. The SP also won 56 of the 85
reserved constituencies in UP, as against just 17 won by the BSP.
As in the case with Akhilesh, Raj Thackeray's appeal to the people in
Maharashtra was to vote for anti-incumbency and in favour of change
and development. Ironically, the Dalits in Maharashtra have been used
and abused by political parties primarily because of disunity and
multiple Dalit factions led by their various self-serving leaders.
The leading Republican Party of India (Athavale) faction, for example,
entered into an alliance with the Shiv Sena-BJP for the Maharashtra
civic polls, rather than the Congress-NCP with whom it had an alliance
in the past. While the RPI won just one seat in the Mumbai civic
polls, its support gave an edge to the Shiv Sena-BJP candidates in
The disillusioned among the Dalits, however, preferred to vote for Raj
Thackeray across cities in the hope of a new leadership. The
direction-less politics of Dalits over the past many decades in
Maharashtra has been eloquently captured in Anand Patwardhan's latest
documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade.
Unlike Mayawati who frittered away her opportunity to focus on
development and good governance, the new SP government led by Mulayam
Singh – Akhilesh will be expected to chart a new course for UP, more
on the lines of Nitish Kumar's Bihar where good governance has become
a talking point. As also demonstrated by Gujarat, there's all round
support from voters when governments engage in effective governance
and ensure productive investments in infrastructure such as good roads
Such steps help the economy in the state bringing in employment and
revenues. When that happens, everyone benefits, including the Dalits.
Hopefully, that's the story that will unfold in Akhilesh Yadav's Uttar
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