“No, one has offered me Rs 100 crore,” says N Mahesh, with a laugh. “The BJP did ask me to support them, but I said no. It is Behenji’s (Mayawati) decision,” said the lone victorious Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate of the 2018 elections. Mahesh won the Kollegal Assembly constituency in Chamarajnagar district, beating his nearest rival, the Congress’s A R Krishna Murthy, by a comfortable margin of 19,454 votes. Since 2004, he has fought four elections and emerged victorious for the first time. “It has been a long and hard struggle,” said Mahesh, who is also the BSP state president.
The party fought the election in alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular). While Congress president Rahul Gandhi had mocked the JD(S) as the B-team of the BJP, Mahesh said he or BSP workers had no confusion that the JD(S) would not go with the BJP when the cookie crumbled. “It was a cooked-up story spread by the Congress to confuse Dalit and Muslim voters. They managed to fool the Muslims to some extent, but the Dalits were not confused,” he said.
Mahesh endorsed the view that the Congress’s much-vaunted AHINDA vote bank had cracked. Of the 33 seats reserved for the SC community, the Congress won 12, while the BJP and the JD(S) won 16 and 5 seats respectively. “The Dalits were angry with Siddaramaiah because he did little to empower the community economically. All that he did was for his own community, the Kurubas. What has been the representation of backward communities like the Kurubas in his government or the cabinet? Power should be shared by all,” he said.
Mahesh disputed the opinion that the former chief minister, Siddaramaiah, had empowered the backwards and the Dalits. “You all think he is a big socialist. But according to me, Anna Bhagya is a charity programme. It makes the people helpless and dependent. It is not a means of empowerment. If the government had done something for the land rights of the Dalits, then Anna Bhagya would not even be needed. Haven’t you heard the Chinese saying? Don’t give me a fish every day. Instead, teach me to fish,” he said.
A member of the Holeya (right) Dalit community, Mahesh said he was one of the first to support the Sadashiva Commission report, which had recommended an internal reservation for the (left) Madiga Dalits. “The Madigas were angry at the Congress because they did nothing to implement it. It is not that the BJP appeals to them, but they voted for the party out of anger, against the Congress,” said Mahesh. Kollegal is also a constituency reserved for the SC community. “Even the Madigas voted for me,” he said.
Despite his reservations about the incumbent party, he believes that a post-poll alliance between the JD(S) and the Congress was “natural and inevitable” to keep “communal forces” out of power.
The 57-year-old Ambedkarite was a government servant when he took voluntary retirement in 1998 to join the BSP. “I was influenced by Kanshi Ram and Mayawatiji,” he said. Over the years, Mahesh said the BSP has built a base for itself in South Karnataka – in Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajnagar and Hassan districts. In the 2013 Assembly elections, for instance, Mahesh had got the second-highest number of votes (25.4%) against the Congress’s 32.36%.