Mayawati’s blurred political vision
The BSP has taken steps to gain the trust of Muslims but also does not want to be seen as aggressively pro-Muslim
Boycotting an Opposition meet convened by the Congress party to decide on a strategy on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati said lending support to the Congress would hurt the morale of BSP workers in Rajasthan as the national party had earlier “poached” some BSP workers. Calling the CAA “divisive and unconstitutional”, Ms. Mayawati instructed her party members to protest not with the Congress on the streets but through “posts and mail and by handing over memorandum”.
For the BSP, opposing the CAA-NRC is a strategic move. When the party abstained from voting on the triple talaq bill and supported the dilution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Muslim supporters of the party were angry. Sensing this displeasure, the BSP took steps to gain the trust of the community. First, Ms. Mayawati reappointed Danish Ali as the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha in November 2019. Then she opposed the CAA and NRC. The CAA is largely opposed by a section of people in the Northeast where the BSP has no political stake. It is also opposed by largely Muslim communities; progressive, centrist parties; those supporting or associated with the Left; and civil society groups.
A soft protest
At the same time, the BSP also does not want to be seen as aggressively pro-Muslim, which is why it has launched a ‘soft protest’. Among the supporters of the BSP, there is already some identification with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva ideology. The campaigns of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its allied organisations among various Dalit communities over the years have succeeded in mobilising Hindus against political parties that display a pro-Muslim image. Over the months, units of the BJP and RSS have been assiduously trying to win over Dalits by telling them that citizenship will be provided to the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh, including Dalits and other Hindu communities, who have suffered marginalisation. All this has made Ms. Mayawati defensive, as seen in her replacing of Mr. Ali with Ritesh Pandey from the Ambedkar Nagar seat, for instance. She tweeted: “In order to maintain a social balance, since both the leaders in Lok Sabha and UP BSP president [Munquad Ali] are from the same community, some changes have been made.”
The party’s soft protest is also rooted in another concern. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, who is charismatic and has the ability to attract large crowds, has mastered the art of street protests. The BSP is worried that if its supporters come out on the streets, they will become part of his popular protest movement.
Launching a soft protest is not going to help the party, however. By refusing to lead from the front, Ms. Mayawati has lost an important opportunity to project herself as a strong Opposition leader. It is Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi who has occupied this space instead. While it is true that the BSP has always shied away from participating in mass protest movements, it will need to rethink that strategy this time.
Nor is the party’s attempt to maintain a “social balance” and avoid any stereotyping going down well with everyone in the party, with some asking why it is okay for two upper caste men to be in high positions but not two Muslims. When Kanshi Ram visualised the Bahujan movement in north India, he defined Muslims as one of the constituents of the Bahujan population. Ms. Mayawati has tried to form Dalit-Bahujan alliances in electoral politics, but failed to respond to the aspirations of a larger section of Muslim communities and other social groups who are in opposition to the CAA-NRC. Dilemmas, confusion and strategic ambivalence become evident in all political parties when they fail to evolve their political vision with the changing times. Retreats or constant shifts in position are the outcome of a blurred political vision. It will be difficult to assess the benefits and losses in mobilisation caused by the BSP’s position on the CAA-NRC. But at the moment, it has already led to critiques of the party, even among its core Dalit-Bahujan supporters.
Badri Narayan is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad