POLITICS | Comment

Mounting a late comeback

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been in steady electoral decline for the last decade. It swept Uttar Pradesh in 2007, securing 30.43 per cent of the popular vote, but it lost to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2012, polling only 25.91 per cent. Similarly, in the general election in 2009, its 27.4 per cent translated into 20 Lok Sabha MPs; by 2014, it was down to 19.6 per cent and no seats.

In these 10 years, the BSP’s upper caste vote — assiduously cultivated in the run-up to 2007 through its ‘bhaichara sammelans’ and promise of restoring law and order — melted away. Worse, by 2014, Mayawati’s core constituency of Dalits began to shrink, lured away by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

As the BSP spiralled downwards, a galaxy of senior leaders, many hand-picked by party founder Kanshi Ram, either left or were thrown out of the party. They included Babu Singh Kushwaha, R.K. Chowdhury, Swami Prasad Maurya, Jugal Kishore, Dara Singh Chauhan and Brajesh Pathak. Barring Mr. Pathak who belongs to the Brahmin community, the rest belong to most backward castes. Now only two of Ms. Mayawati’s old lieutenants — Naseemuddin Siddiqui and Satish Mishra — remain, while old faithful Ambeth Rajan continues in the wings. However, unlike those who left the party, those who remain do not command much of a following even in their own communities. BSP insiders say the original party structure has virtually been dismantled. They point to the need to urgently rebuild the organisation, groom new leaders, and frame a credible political message.

Infrequent interactions

Till the 2007 polls, Ms. Mayawati herself held regular workers’ meetings, impervious to inclement weather. In power (2007-2012), she had her hands full with administration. But her growing dependence on her lieutenants and coterie of civil servants saw her growing increasingly isolated from the rank and file. The distance grew as she gradually became accustomed to a more lavish lifestyle. The only change in the party has been in the modernisation of communication. The BSP, which once scoffed at the media, began to vigorously use social media platforms. But this was not enough for Ms. Mayawati’s supporters as she was rarely sighted till about six months back.

 

This did not go unnoticed even by her most committed voters. Last September, while travelling through eastern U.P., I stopped in the Ganeshpur Assembly seat of Basti district in Aaspur, a village populated almost entirely by members of Ms. Mayawati’s own community. Residents told me that they had always voted BSP and would do so this time too: “Haathi hamara ghar hai, doosre ghar me mana hai (The elephant is our home, we are not accepted anywhere else).”

But to a question on Ms. Mayawati’s prospects in the upcoming elections, they expressed regret. “She won’t return to power this time because all other communities are against us,” said Anil Kumar. “One community is just not enough.” Swami Prasad Maurya’s departure for the BJP, he stressed, had sent a negative signal to the Mauryas and Kushwahas (a big chunk of whom had voted for the BSP) just as the formation of the Nishad Party had seen the flight of the Nishads, Kewats, Binds and Mallahs, all supporters of the BSP earlier. As for the upper castes, Mr. Kumar said they had not just abandoned the BSP but were actively campaigning against Ms. Mayawati at the village level, recalling the liberal use of the legislation (while she was in power) that penalises those who commit atrocities against the Scheduled Castes. Behenji no longer met people directly, he said, but left the job to her coordinators, many of whom did not convey the right picture to her. “Now with elections round the corner, she has finally begun to get out and meet people.”

A ray of hope

It is against this bleak backdrop that two events that took place in 2016 provide signs of hope for the BSP. The first was the Dalit uprising in Gujarat. The assault on Dalits in Una that reverberated through the country did not just remind Dalits of their essential condition, but also provided Ms. Mayawati the opportunity to regain her vote base ahead of the Assembly elections. BSP cadres hit the streets in protest, even as a video capturing the horrifying details of a violent upper caste attack on Dalit cow-skinners in Una began to circulate. After Una and the public meetings condemning the derogatory remarks made about Ms. Mayawati by the subsequently expelled BJP member Daya Shankar Singh, her core Dalit vote has returned. The rallies that she has held in the last six months, though few in number, have been very well-attended.

The second event has been the continuing Yadav family feud in the SP that has presented the Muslims, constituting 18 per cent of the State’s population, with a dilemma: their first choice is the SP, and their target is to defeat the BJP, but can a divided SP do that? If the feud does not end, the BSP could be the beneficiary. Ms. Mayawati has therefore been wooing the Muslims, underscoring the SP’s deep divide at public meetings. Last week, she asked senior BSP leaders to make the electorate aware that the feud did not augur well for the State’s development.

To get the message across more clearly, she has nominated 97 Muslim candidates and 106 candidates from the OBC community, a section that had almost wholesale abandoned the BSP in 2014. By comparison, Dalits have been given just 87 seats. Only two candidates are left to be declared.

It is clear that Ms. Mayawati is working on a plan. But being belated, will it be enough?

smita.g@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 8:57:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/Mounting-a-late-comeback/article17013997.ece

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