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Once party of government in UP, and vehicle of Dalit empowerment, BSP shrinks, because of, not despite itself

By: Editorial |
Updated: June 17, 2021 8:07:37 am
On Tuesday, at least five legislators who were elected on a BSP ticket in 2017 met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, a move seen as a prelude to them joining that party.

With less than a year left for assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BSP seems poised to shrink further in the state. On Tuesday, at least five legislators who were elected on a BSP ticket in 2017 met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, a move seen as a prelude to them joining that party. Dissensions and expulsions have reduced the BSP’s actual strength in the UP assembly to just seven seats, 12 down from the 19 it won in 2017. It is a steep decline for a party that has held office multiple times in UP, the last time in 2007-12 with 206 MLAs. Its vote share has fallen from 30 per cent in 2007 to 22 per cent in 2017.

The decline of the BSP comes at a time, ironically, when the Dalit street is in political ferment. And yet the BSP has no one but itself to blame for not stepping up to the moment. Its entry into the electoral fray, in 1984, radically altered the political and social landscape of UP by privileging the Bahujan identity crafted by its founder, Kanshi Ram. However, if the BSP under Kanshi Ram made the promise of a grass roots movement premised on a broad agenda of social justice, under Mayawati the party steadily narrowed its platform and became an extension of her persona. The Mayawati-BSP hits the streets only when she is personally targeted, not to highlight issues concerning Dalits. Within the party, Mayawati has centralised decision-making and curbed all potential threats to her leadership by expelling even senior leaders who had worked with Kanshi Ram to build the BSP. This authoritarian leadership model has, over the years, cost the BSP its inclusive Bahujan character. From the party envisaged by Kanshi Ram as a coalition of Dalit castes and lower OBCs excluded from the power structures, the BSP is, today, predominantly the party of the Jatavs in UP.

Kanshi Ram saw capturing office as the end game of politics. But his strategy was premised on building an organisation that was representative of the Bahujan samaj. Mayawati’s inability to forge and sustain wider partnerships contributes to her party’s present predicament. Of course, Mayawati remains a powerful Dalit icon and the BSP is still seen as the vehicle for political empowerment by a significant section of the Dalit community. With elections in UP a few months away, it could be something for the BSP to rebuild on.

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