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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23

Unexpected Turn-around in UP

Thursday 31 May 2007, by Surendra Mohan

The Bahujan Samaj Party President, Mayawati, has led her party to victory in the recently held general elections to the State Assembly of Uttar Pradesh. While political observers and the media were agreed that the BSP would emerge as the largest party in the Assembly and there were speculations that the party would depend on outside support to form a government, no one had said that it would get an absolute majority. Mayawati was the Chief Minister of the State thrice earlier, in 1995, 1997, and 2002, always in alliance with the BJP. However, with the strength that her party was gaining in election after election, it was not difficult to forecast its victory. The Samajwadi Party secured 97 seats and suffered a loss of 45 and the BJP went down from 88 to 50, thereby losing 38 seats, that is, 44 per cent. The Congress Party secured 22 seats as against 25 last time, and lost three seats. In respect of votes, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have maintained their positions, but the BJP lost 3.30 per cent. In comparison to the parliamentary general elections when it polled 23.75 per cent in the State, a climb down to 16.80 per cent in three years is quite significant. Its poll percentage in the 1998 parliamentary general elections was 36.49. The upset was the hardest for the Samajwadi Party, owing to a strong anti-incumbency vote. All the others suffered as the electorate looked upon the BSP as the alternative, capable of defeating the Samajwadi Party.

Mayawati considerably altered her election strategy in this election. Instead of attacking the forward castes as manuwadi, she cajoled them, particularly the Brahmins. She made made Satish Chandra Mishra a member of the Rajya Sabha. In the entire election campaign, Mishra was her constant companion, addressing every public meeting she addressed. The number of Brahmin candidates that the BSP proposed was the highest among all political parties. Mayawati constituted ‘Bhaichara’ Committees in all districts and constituencies. The earlier denunciation of the forward castes was now a thing of the past, best forgotten. Whether it would cripple her style of governance, it is difficult to predict. Her earlier rule had resulted in the setting up of a large number of Ambedkar Parks and she had renamed several districts after the stalwarts of social awakening like Mahatma Buddha, Sant Kabir, Jyoti Rao Phule and Shahuji Maharaj. However, she had taken no steps to alter the social status of the Dalits. Although a large number of Dalits close to her and leaders in the party benefited and became affluent, the average Dalit remained where he had been for ages. Most of the agricultural workers in the State are Dalits and the most backward castes. Thus, agricultural reforms alone can alter the social equation in their favour.

In the 1950s, Choudhary Charan Singh, then the Minister of Agriculture, had got enacted the bhumidari rights to the hereditary tenants who could own the lands that they cultivated by paying ten times of the land revenue. Over seven million persons became peasant proprietors. The earlier zamindars, coming from Rajput, Bhumihar, Kayasth and Brahmin castes, lost their economic and social status in the countryside. Eventually, political power also shifted to the new peasantry. Mulayam Singh Yadav enjoyed the fruits of that social transformation. However, the tenants at will remained where they were. Mostly Dalits and persons from the most backward castes, they only got new masters in these new peasants who belong mostly to the backward castes, and it is in fact more appropriate to call them intermediate castes. The latter are not ‘gentlemen farmers’ or absentee landlords, but interest themselves with everyday agricultural operations. Nor are their tenants at will large in numbers. The oppression that the latter now experience is not materially different from the old masters of the forward castes.

Mayawati, having emerged from among the Dalits, and having consolidated her hold on power with their ardent and total support, has the obligation to bring about the land reforms necessary to foster the next phase of the social revolution in agriculture. The programme of the Socialist Party was ‘land to the tiller’. The test for Mayawati, the new Chief Minister, is to implement that programme and also see to its strict implementa-tion by putting the entire administrative machinery into the task. The present masters shall resist such a measure with all their strength and as they are strongly entrenched in the rural society and in political power as allies of the Samajwadi Party, that resistance would have to be met with resolute determination. The police will have to be given the task of standing by the Dalits and other agricultural workers.

In Kerala and later in West Bengal, reforms were brought about by law for the amelioration of the economic well-being of the agricultural workers. Evictions were outlawed and permanent tenancies were created. Homestead land was given to each agricultural worker family. Their wages were fixed and their conditions of work elaborately defined. Health benefits and pension in old age were legislated. However, land to the tiller has remained a distant dream. Governments in which the bhadraloks are the rulers cannot possibly shoulder the onerous responsibility of such a revolutionary measure. Distribution of excess land or the land under forests, near railway tracks or the nazool land have been distributed to the families of agricultural workers, but this is not enough. These are social welfare measures, incapable of turning the wheel. Only a government as the present one in UP can attempt fundamental alterations in the social system because the bulk of its support has come from the very sections which will benefit. It is possible to argue, however, that Mayawati can start with the welfare measures, but she cannot stop there.

Obviously, the bureaucracy shall not easily succumb to this transformation. Most of the officers, including the police officers and other personnel, come from the peasantry. It might be necessary, on the one hand, to recruit a much larger number of people from among the Dalits into the police force, and, on the other, to reorient those who are already there. Mayawati has been no respecter of bureaucrats, however high and mighty. She had humbled many a tough one and wielded the stick effectively to ensure that they behave. The atrocities against the Dalits had been put down with a heavy hand. Corruption and other malpractices were also dealt with severely, even if she herself had employed questionable means for personal aggrandisement or for similar benefits to her colleagues and favourites.

If Mayawati were to take the courage in both hands and embark on this path, she might encounter resistance from her new allies, the Brahmins and her supporters from other forward castes. Since all their strength and influence has flown from her, they can hardly stand firm if she frowns. This is what she might have to do. The BJP would be keen on supporting such elements as also those in the bureaucracy who might risk their positions to challenge the Chief Minister. The Samajwadi Party might join it, as the main Opposition. Thus, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, with the support of the Congress Party which gave up this vision long time ago, could overturn the applecart. The Chief Minister will have to be on guard, all the time. This also means that her own conduct and that of all her colleagues will have to be above-board and beyond reproach.

A distinguished Socialist ideologue, the author is currently the President of the JD-S that emerged after the expulsion of H.D. Deve Gowda from the party.

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