The decision of all six members of the BSP legislature party in Rajasthan to join the Congress has Mayawati hopping mad at the latter. The BSP supremo has described the development “a betrayal of the BSP movement, at a time when the BSP was giving unconditional support to the Congress government from outside”. She has gone on to describe the Congress as a party that is “against SCs, STs, OBCs and has never been sincere and honest about the right to reservation of these classes” and always “opposed to B R Ambedkar and his humanitarian ideology”. Outlined in her terse and hurt response is a potted history of the tense relationship the Ambedkarite movement has had with the Congress and the contradictions that define the BSP’s movement character and its electoral compulsions.
This is not the first time the BSP has lost sitting legislators to other parties — BSP MLAs in Rajasthan had crossed over to the Congress in 2009 and helped the latter gain simple majority in the House. The situation is similar this time — the Congress will cross the half-way mark with the entry of BSP legislators. The BSP’s inability to hold on to its legislators outside UP may have to do with the party’s own leadership structure and not just the purchasing power of its rivals. Many BSP MLAs win elections on the strength of the party also being a socio-political movement. However, these legislators rarely get to partake of the fruits of office since the BSP is averse to coalitions — the central leadership is wary of allowing its state leaders to join government and build influence. Parties born out of the Ambedkarite movement have historically competed with the Congress for Dalit votes and the BSP too sees the party as a political rival and refuses to align with it. The centralisation of power in Mayawati and her failure to build broader social alliances outside UP has stymied the party’s growth. Besides, the BJP too has been on an aggressive outreach for the Dalit vote. Surely, Mayawati needs to reflect why her party is on the decline even when the Dalit community across the country is getting radicalised.
The BSP’s plight also reflects a crisis that most smaller parties in the country seem to be confronting, especially since 2014. The BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has established itself as the dominant pole of Indian politics. The Congress has held on as the opposite pole in some states. The multi-polar character of the polity, that emerged in the 1980s, seems to be unravelling in most parts of the country and the emerging scenario is forcing local leaders to align with parties in pole position to stay afloat. The BSP may need to rethink its electoral strategy and go for tactical alliances if it wants to survive the present phase.