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Mainstream, VOL L, No 17, April 14, 2012

Are there Limits to Bahujan Politics?

Saturday 14 April 2012


The recent election results in five States, particularly in the largest State of India, Uttar Pradesh, induced political pundits to make different conjectures. One important message, according to some, is that UP is becoming another Tamil Nadu, making the national parties redundant in State politics. This may be a farfetched hypothesis that needs serious empirical study following Indian approaches of understanding a local phenomenon. It is also pointed out that the Bahujan Samaj Party did not make any impact on the results and the euphoria created around Mayawati was blown over after March 6. This seems to be not based on facts. The vote-share of the BSP has remained almost constant ever since Kanshi Ram experimented Bahujan politics with Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP. The difference between the winning SP and the defeated BSP is around three per cent votes and the BSP came second in 209 seats. Significantly, the BSP pockets of Agra and Bundelkhand regions seemed to have remained intact. Then why the defeat?

Caste and religion have become so sensitive in recent times that a dispassionate attempt to ana-lyse the issues at hand with academic interest is received with some apprehension. Yet, public dis-course on issues of contemporary importance should persevere. It seems that the status quo of our society is maintained due to the failure of some groups to cut a few traditional mores. But, in a dynamic situation they feel frustrated and make the onlookers rueful. In this context we can see that some groups develop obsessions with entities that make them comfortable as long as they are not challenged. For instance, like the orthodox Hindus’ obsession with the Vedas, the literate Dalits are alleged to be fetish with Ambed-kar statues. The issue of the statue is referred here in connection with the onslaught of the Mayawati Government in UP. That was the beginning of a protracted battle against her government by all parties that eventually made her to lose her seat of power. No one is willing to recognise the grea-test service she has done to Lucknow by beautifying the whole Gomathi area and making it perhaps the only magnificent secular public place developed during the post-independence period in the whole of India. Swamy Ankaleshwar Iyer in his column (TOI) called it the ‘Lutyens of Lucknow’ (it is more imposing than Rajpath). In fact, it has emerged as the pilgrimage centre for Dalits. But, we are told that many groups among the Dalits did not accept it and there are several green-eyed activists who started an undercurrent of hate campaign against her. Maybe the style of functioning of Mayawati was responsible for that, but are the Dalit leaders not mature enough to endure it like they have been bearing others for ages? Or is it the limitation of exclusionist politics that she was forced into and could not come out of it.

DEMOCRACY, according to one commentator, is about numbers. In a country like India with caste, religious, regional, language loyalties, garnering the magic figure somehow is now considered as successful politics. This was known to Dr Ambed-kar more than anyone else; therefore he wanted separate electorates for the Scheduled Castes. He had to compromise with Gandhiji in 1932 (eighty years ago) to save his life and the Scheduled Castes have been compelled to contest in reserved seats and solicit the votes of non-Dalits who constitute nearly 70 per cent. It means that the Scheduled Caste and tribal candidates contesting in reserved seats should perpetually depend upon others to get elected and should be loyal to the party that gives them the ticket. This is like our erstwhile jajmani system of the feudal period where you need to depend upon the one who commands resources and people. Realising the constraints of the existing political framework, Kanshi Ram shifted his place of work to Uttar Pradesh (from Pune) in the 1980s. Those who are familiar with the social statistics, would recognise that the phenomena of concentration of Dalit pockets in the mainland Aryavarta of UP, Punjab etc. do cross around 30 per cent of the population in some districts. This is also true in Bengal. But, Kanshi Ram concen-trated in UP and worked hard in the regions where the Muslim, Dalit and lower BCs comprise around 50-70 per cent. However, his experiments did not give the results and he finally designed the Sarvajan formula realising that Brahmins constitute around 10 per cent of the population and are clever unlike in other areas. In other words, Kanshi Ram went ahead of the so-called identity politics to capture power. But, he could not witness the triumph of his politics in 2007 (one year after his death). This was a very inop-portune time for Mayawati as she was dubbed by Dalits as the one who mortgaged the self-respect of the Dalits to Brahmins. The Dalits have failed to see the distinction between social movements and a political strategy in winning elections. It is alleged that Mayawati was forced to slowly estrange the symbol of the upper castes, Satish Chandra Mishra, by 2012. Now the BSP is restricted to UP and maybe to a sub-region in future, if the present trend continues.

The competing politics in UP made the SP, once a Lohiaite party, becoming worldly wise in making the affable young man, Akilesh Yadav, the new Chief Minister. The SP was originally like the BSP, but slowly it graduated to become a Bahujan party by bringing other castes also into its fold. The upper castes in UP have done a moronic act of encouraging first the BSP against the SP and now by supporting the SP against the BSP; they seem to have permanently lost the ground in UP politics forever to be dictated by these forces. This attitude of the ruling castes sustains the caste system in India. But, the future depends on how the BSP prepares its strategies. If Akhilesh Yadav succeeds like Mayawati in containing the rowdy elements and ensure the rule of law, it is likely that the upper castes and Muslims would not look up to the BSP. The reading that the SP won 58 out of the 85 reserved seats to show that Mayawati has lost ground with Dalits is not entirely correct. Dalits or any single caste on their own in any constitu-ency (including reserved) do not win the elections without support from others. Therefore, the number indicates a general trend of some kind of a swing in favour of the SP; this may be due to the Muslim shift. However, the BSP has pockets of Dalit concentration where it can get a minimum of 70 seats and a peak of 90 with its own vote- bank. But, that does not bring victory. It has to play inclusive politics. Further, Muslims would always feel comfortable with a non-Dalit due to the caste stigma than with a Dalit. In fact, no political party including the BSP, SP, DMK, RPI etc., that speak about social engineering, has ever experimented in sharing power with the lower rungs who are minorities within the social groups, and tried out constructive programmes to unite the so-called Bahujans, Sarvajans and even the numerous Dalit sub-castes?

The Dalit vote-bank of the BSP is alleged to be a divided house; disruptive behaviour, leg-pulling and finding solace with the non-Dalit leader-ship are considered as some of its shortcomings. This is the greatest limitation of Bahujan politics as of now. Further, the SP has shown that there is an alternative leadership in the party. But Mayawati has a problem of stewardship as Dalits are disorderly and there are too many to claim the leadership. Unfor-tunately, Mayawati has no family to fall back upon as the future politics in India appears to be heading towards consan-guinity rather than consensus politics!

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