BSP supremo Mayawati’s rally in Meerut on Monday, her first since she resigned from the Rajya Sabha in July, is being touted as the first step towards reviving the party. The BSP could not win a single seat in the 2014 general election from Uttar Pradesh, where she has been chief minister four times, and in the 2017 assembly election, it was reduced to third position with just 19 seats in the House. Out of office in UP for two terms and with no presence in the Lok Sabha, the BSP faces the prospect of electoral isolation and irrelevance. Her plan to hold regular public rallies and meetings with cadres is evidently designed to stem the decline.
However, the Meerut rally will be remembered more for the decision to launch the political career of Mayawati’s nephew, Akash Anand. His father, Anand Kumar, is already being projected as Mayawati’s heir. The addition of the nephew to the BSP leadership would appear to confirm that the party which began as a movement of the Dalits and the underclass has progressively lost the radical charge that set it apart from other parties. Of course, dynastic politics could be deemed normal in the Indian context, where most political parties, including those that emerged out of social movements, get reduced to family fiefs.
But political dynasties are unlikely to engage or charm a younger, more demanding electorate. Under Kanshi Ram, the BSP kept its ear to the ground and saw itself as a political platform of the Dalits and the disempowered OBC communities. Under Mayawati, the BSP’s social coalition expanded from bahujan to sarvjan. The social coalition helped the BSP win UP on its own in 2006. Thereafter, however, the sarvjan experiment seems to have unravelled, with many influential leaders quitting the party, Swami Prasad Maurya and Naseemuddin Siddiqui being the most recent.
The BSP may need to mobilise people on local concerns and livelihood issues and build leadership at the grass roots if it wants to rebuild and revive its political fortunes. In recent years, its self-respect agenda has been limited to hitting the streets over real and perceived insults to Mayawati and Kanshi Ram. The party’s retreat from movement politics has led to the emergence of new Dalit groups outside the party fold, the Bhim Army for instance. The BSP could learn a lesson or two from them in reaching out to the youth.
In Meerut, Mayawati identified the BJP as her opponent and her silence on other parties may be an indication of her willingness to engage with them. But the success of the tactic will depend on the BSP first shoring up its own strength on the ground.