As the BSP inches towards a slender lead in successive phases of the UP polls, Mayawati’s strategy of social engineering is attracting attention. Though the BSP is trying to cobble a social coalition of dalits, upper castes, OBCs and Muslims, the focus is clearly on the party’s efforts to win the brahmins.
In retrospect, Mayawati planned her strategy of social engineering quite early. The first change was discernible when she made Satish Mishra national general secretary of BSP in October 2004 and later sent him to Rajya Sabha. The Maya-Mishra duo was floated with a view to providing a visible symbol of the growing cordiality between the two communities. Mishra’s induction was followed by ‘brahmin jodo sammelans’. She was not against brahmins, said Mayawati, but against manuvad.
This was followed by the creation of ‘district bhaichara committees’ which had a brahmin president, dalit secretary, and a two-third brahmin membership. The purpose was to accommodate as many brahmins as possible so that they work as ambassadors for the party within their community.
But why should brahmins and dalits come together? There are some cogent reasons why they should. One, brahmins and dalits were at two ends of social hierarchy and there has always been a disconnect between the two. But that also ensured that they had no direct social or material conflict. On the other hand, the dalits and OBCs have clashed as the latter, being the dominant land owning class, tried to exploit the former. Secondly, dalits have found a role reversal in society since 1995. Earlier the brahmins were at the dictating end and the dalits were at the receiving end. But, since 1995, after three stints of Mayawati as chief minister, dalits have seen how a ‘dalit ki beti’ can dictate. On the other side, there is the desire of the brahmins to influence mainstream politics again — they have been marginalised since 1989.
Mayawati’s social engineering is in full play in Allahabad district which sends the highest number of MLAs to the state assembly. Here, the brahmins have deserted both Congress and SP to flock to the BSP. Congress leader Ashok Bajpayee, a brahmin, joined the BSP; SP leader and chairperson of the Rajya Mahila Ayog Ranjana Bajpayee is canvassing for her son Harshvardhan Bajpayee who is a BSP candidate. The same is true of Muslims: Ammar Rizvi, Congress leader, is canvassing for his son Meesam Rizvi, a BSP candidate.
To prepare the ground for her new strategy, Mayawati brought in a philosophical change: from bahujan samaj to sarvajan samaj — an indication of the renunciation of cleavage-based exclusionary politics and acceptance of assimilation-based inclusionary politics. So, the structural metamorphosis was backed by ideological change. This was reflected in the ticket allocation. The BSP gave tickets to 86 brahmins as against 36 in 2002.
Are brahmins really voting for the BSP in these elections? By all indications, they are. They are not only voting in constituencies where a brahmin is a BSP candidate, they are also voting for the party in constituencies where a non-brahmin is a BSP candidate.
The BJP too attempted ‘apex social engineering’ by bringing the thakur-brahmin-OBC (Rajnath-Kesarinath Tripathi-Kalyan) combination at the top. But Mayawati outwitted the party by combining ‘apex social engineering’ (Mayawati-Satish Mishra-Naseemuddin) with ‘social engineering from below’. It seems to have paid off. In the phases completed so far, the party has attracted 19 per cent Muslims, 16 per cent brahmins, 14 per cent jats and 32 per cent lower OBCs.
Mayawati’s social engineering also extends to other non-dalits. The banias are tilting towards BSP; they argue it is the only party which can end the goonda raj of extortionists. The BSP’s decision of giving party tickets to 110 OBCs is part of the gameplan. It is that segment of the lower OBCs which has reason to join hands with dalits as they are an equally harassed lot.
The BSP has worked out a phase-wise strategy of social engineering: it went for a jat-jatav-Muslim combine in jatland UP, where jatavs and Muslims together form about 34 to 66 per cent of the electorate. In Ruhelkhand, depending on the share of kurmis and Muslims, Mayawati has worked out kurmi-dalit or Muslim-dalit combines. The BSP was placed second or third in 150 constituencies losing by a margin of one to ten thousand votes in 2002 assembly elections. This time its social engineering has the potential to turn the tables in many such constituencies.
Mayawati’s experiment is reminiscent of the social coalition of post-Independence Congress. But the inner dynamic of the attempted social coalition is diametrically opposed to that of the post-Independence era. It may signify a progressive step designed to amalgamate social justice with social cohesion.
The writer teaches politics in Christ Church College, Kanpur