What's next for Mayawati?
Harish S Wankhede Posted online: Mon Mar 19 2012, 02:50 hrs
The BSP's stumble in UP should prompt it to think harder about its
Analysing the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, many have belittled
the Bahujan Samaj Party as having "lost force", and suggested the "end
of Dalit/caste politics". The election mandate has been interpreted as
a response to anti-incumbency, alleged corruption, and the burden on
the exchequer from parks and statues. Deep down, though, there is a
subtle acceptance that Mayawati's rule has brought tremendous change
in UP, at the sociopolitical and economic level.
However, the BSP should not limit itself to UP's corridors of power.
Current political conditions permit Mayawati to stretch into newer
regions and communities, and become a formidable force in the upcoming
Lok Sabha election.
The recent elections have shown that she has the power to galvanise
her core constituency, that Dalits remain the permanent voters of the
BSP. However, it has been suggested that her social engineering with
the Brahmins has not worked this time. It has been said that the
Brahmins did not vote for the BSP (though it is unclear who they
actually voted overwhelmingly for). The challenge for Mayawati now is
to work harder at persuading these sections to stay with the BSP.
Sarvajan politics comes with an ethical dilemma as it poses itself
against the dominant majoritarian politics of OBC identity. The BSP
must make sure its ideology and principles are not compromised as it
presents itself to lead non-Dalit groups.
In 2007, it was said that the SP lost the assembly elections due to a
considerable shift of Muslim voters to the BSP. However, Mayawati
failed to sustain this support in the recent elections, despite having
fielded the maximum number of Muslim candidates and having announced
various welfare schemes for Muslims. If she can promise concrete
measures to include Muslims in her social justice agenda (including
the guarantee of separate Muslim reservation) and promise
unconditional protection to their religious and cultural interests
against Hindutva politics, Muslims may yet choose her again. This
makes sense in the larger ethical project of Bahujan politics.
The BSP is also the third biggest national party with a growing vote
share of above 6 per cent. In states like Haryana, Delhi, Uttaranchal
and Punjab, the BSP has good prospects. In the recently concluded
elections, despite no direct intervention and support from the party,
the candidates did remarkably well, emerging as runners-up in many
The party can make an impress on new sections of voters — mobilising
Dalits and other politically marginalised groups (non-Jat groups in
Haryana, Muslims in Delhi and migrant population in Punjab) can pay
heavy dividends in the coming Lok Sabha elections. States like
Maharashtra that have witnessed strong Dalit movements are a promising
new frontier for the BSP — in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, it
has already launched an impressive entry in the local elections.
UP should, of course, remain the central location of Mayawati's
politics — making two communities crucial, the Brahmins and the
Muslims. A "Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim alliance" is a sure winner in UP, but
almost impossible to achieve. These communities have their own
strategic and separate interests (which often clash) — and it will not
be easy for the BSP to solder them together. In states like Haryana,
Delhi and Maharashtra, it could win some parliamentary seats only if
the Dalit voter accepts the BSP as vanguard party.
BSP politics is based on the idea of fair representation of
historically marginalised communities in the political sphere. It has
mobilised Dalits, given them a dignified political location and made
them vital to mainstream democratic struggles. And yet, being
identified mainly as a "Dalit party" and a "one region party" have
limited its potential as an alternative national force. The BSP should
take the recent UP loss as a learning experience and imagine itself as
an emergent national player.
The writer is assistant professor of political science at Delhi University
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