At its recent Vrindavan convention, the RSS decided to devote the whole of next year to involving Dalits in its socio-cultural campaigns. This move on the part of the RSS to intensify its samajik samrasta campaign and forge links with the Dalits, the vanchits and other oppressed social groups comes in the wake of reports that the BSP supremo Mayawati is losing her hold over the Dalit masses. Is this, then, the beginning of a new phase of Dalit moblisation?
Whatever be the outcome of the RSS outreach, Mayawati has a tough battle ahead. In the past two decades, she had consolidated the Dalit vote, achieved a polarisation of the bahujan and looked poised to disseminate her politics among the sarvajan. Today, her political career is at a crossroads. Her sarvajan outreach has receded to the background as she is busy saving her Dalit base. This follows the dominant view that a section of the Dalits moved away from the BSP and voted for the BJP in the 2017 UP assembly election.
One aspect of the subaltern assertion in recent times is that every Dalit and backward community has become conscious of its specific caste identity. The bahujan politics formulated by Kanshi Ram sought to build a grand alliance of various caste-based identities. This politics accorded respect to Dalit and backward caste identities and created space for their participation in power politics. Both the Dalits and backward castes benefited from state-led development. The exposure to democratic politics, the market, and globalisation, in turn, triggered new aspirations among sections of the Dalits and backward castes, especially those who were early beneficiaries of social mobility.
Empowerment has now acquired many dimensions, thanks to interventions by the state, market, technology and the media. BSP politics under Mayawati, however, has failed to respond to these aspirations: It continues to speak solely in terms of building caste and community alliances. Mayawati has to develop a political language that can address the new aspirations of the fast-changing Dalit community, if she wants to retain the old BSP base. Democratic polarisation is possible only if the leader and the people are able to relate to each other.
In recent years, a creamy layer and a middle class have emerged among the Dalits. At the same time, there is a large section that continues to be marginalised and remains on the periphery of society. Both these sections subscribe to the Dalit identity, but their concerns and aspirations are not the same. Mayawati needs to understand this multi-level disparity in Dalit aspirations and craft a new political vocabulary that both the sections can relate to.
In the early days of her political career, commoners had easy access to Mayawati. That changed with her rise to office. She will now need to retrace her steps and make herself available to ordinary Dalits. In recent years, she has limited her politics to poll campaigns. As Dhoomil said she will need to propagate it from “Parliament to road”. Democracy is not only about “Raj Kaj” (politics of the state), it also has an emotional dimension.
In contrast, the influence of the RSS among the Dalit groups has been on the rise. Developmental aspirations and a yearning for a Hindu religious identity and caste mobility have influenced some Dalit groups to respond to the outreach by the BJP-RSS. Through its campaigns, the RSS has endeavoured to bring the Dalits into its fold. These campaigns focus on the abolition of untouchability, developing self-esteem among the Dalits and presenting a caste history which binds them to the Hindu society. Simultaneously, the BJP also provides space to these Dalit castes in the organisation, leadership and electoral politics, aspects the BSP has ignored.
More than 40 Dalit castes in UP have no visibility in BSP politics. The Sangh and BJP have involved these small Dalit social groups in their social and political programmes. In the coming days, the BSP may find these small Dalit groups moving away from it. Besides, many Dalit civil society organisations have started to disseminate Ambedkar’s ideas independent of the BSP platform. Organisations like the Bhim Army have developed a new and higly emotional language of protest.
In contrast, Mayawati and the BSP are seen to be mild, which may be a compulsion of sarvajan politics. In the coming days, she will need to assimilate in her political language the concerns and emotions flagged by the new Dalit groups and voluntary organisations.
The BSP will also be forced to redefine its relation with other bahujan castes in the wake of the BJP’s outreach to them. A big part of Kurmi society was associated with the BSP, when it was a movement. Kurmi leaders including Sone Lal Patel were associated with the BSP and were close to Kanshi Ram. Literate and educated OBC castes like Kori, Kushwaha, Kanchi, Chaurasia identified with the BSP’s politics of emancipation. But gradually these groups have got alienated from the party. Today, from being a movement the BSP has got restricted to a political party.
Mayawati will need to change the BSP’s organisational structure and reinvent its political language if the party is to stay relevant in the 2019 elections.