Building the ‘bahujan’

Mayawati fears that if the BSP is portrayed as an exclusively Dalit party, she might lose the votes of other castes

Written by Badri Narayan | Updated: January 11, 2017 4:38 am
Uttar Pradesh, UP elections, UP polls, Samajwadi Party, SP infighting, SP rift, BJP-Congress, Akhilesh-Mulayam, BSP, state elections, India news, Indian Express BSP chief Mayawati  (Source: File)

The dates of the Vidhan Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh have been announced. All the parties are readying themselves for the upcoming elections. The BJP and Congress will soon announce their list of candidates. The Samajwadi Party has already released two sets of lists — one comprises candidates belonging to Akhilesh’s group and the second list has names of candidates in the Mulayam faction. A majority of the candidates are common to both the lists, the tussle is only over a few seats.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had begun preparing the list of its candidates soon after the 2014 general elections. The party had also announced the names of most of its candidates some time ago; these candidates are already active in their respective constituencies.

Mayawati categorised her party’s candidates on the basis of caste and religious identity by clearly stating her social engineering strategy. In a press conference, she stated that out of the 403 assembly seats, the SC candidates, Muslim community, OBCs and savarna candidates have been allotted 87, 97, 106 and 113 seats respectively. An analysis of her strategy reveals that the BSP has given the most number of tickets to Muslim candidates, compared to the other parties. During the 2012 elections, the BSP had given tickets to only 85 Muslim candidates. This time the number has increased by 12. This provides a clear picture: The Dalit-Muslim alliance forms the base of Mayawati’s social engineering strategy in the forthcoming elections. Though there are 85 reserved seats for the Dalits in UP, they also have been given two more tickets in the current elections. The BSP has faith in its Dalit base, with which it wants to associate the votes of the Muslim groups.

The BSP has given tickets to 106 OBC castes, while in the 2012 elections it had given tickets to 113 OBC candidates. This time the tickets to savarna candidates have been reduced to 113 from 117 tickets in 2012. The data shows that the party has increased the tickets only of the Muslim candidates and that there has been a reduction in the tickets to other social groups.

In 2012, the BSP gave tickets to 74 Brahmin candidates, illustrating its faith in the social engineering strategy of a Dalit-Brahmin alliance. The fact that the number of Brahmin candidates in the upcoming elections has been reduced to 66 clearly shows that Mayawati is now focusing on the Dalit-Muslim alliance. In addition, during her numerous rallies and meetings, Mayawati has also appealed to Muslim groups to vote in favour of the BSP.

The BSP holds the view that the creation of a sarvajan society can be made possible only by providing political participation to all its castes. When Mayawati and the BSP talk about society, it seems like a confederation of castes. In fact, she adds “society” as a suffix to all the caste names, such as Brahmin society, Dalit society etc. It is evident that Indian society is divided on caste and religious lines. We just have to watch how the BSP and other parties respond to the recently passed verdict of the Supreme Court on not using caste and religion to garner votes during elections.

Kanshi Ram was of the view that casteism can be eradicated from society only when people make use of their caste. Mayawati, influenced by his ideology, walked on the path set by Kanshi Ram. She wants to prove that the BSP is not merely a party of the Dalits. It is interested in providing political rights and representation to all castes. Mayawati fears that if the BSP is portrayed as an exclusively Dalit party, she might lose the votes of other castes.

While declaring the list of its candidates for the 2017 assembly elections, Mayawati said, once again, that the BSP is a sarvajan party and not a caste-based outfit. Its antagonists accuse it of being casteist so that the groups other than Dalits do not associate with it. We have to see how much success Mayawati attains in her strategy of forging a Dalit-Muslim alliance.

Some leaders of Muslim groups are supportive of the SP and form a large base for the party. However, due to the Muzaffarnagar riots and internal clashes, these Muslim groups are somewhat disenchanted with the SP and are showing their support for the BSP. The BSP also laid emphasis on the Muslim community in its bhaichara meetings. In the last few months, the BSP is also rapidly organising the Backward Classes in bhaichara meetings at the block level.

Dalits and Muslims are associated with the BSP, but it will benefit the party if it can also attract Backward and savarna votes. The next two months will decide the form of this social and caste-based polarisation. The days to come will prove how successful Mayawati has been in her social engineering policy.

Narayan is a social scientist and author. His latest book, ‘Fractured Tales: Invisibles in Indian Democracy’, is published by Oxford University Press

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