Confused Mayawati is losing ground

Dalits are no more captives of the BSP's identity politics, and the Muslims aren't on its side anymore.

Confused Mayawati is losing ground
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati is steadily losing ground. She lost power to Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2012, could not win a single seat in the Lok Sabha polls 2014 despite contesting 503 seats, the highest by any political party, and again lost the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections 2017, winning only 19 seats. In her political bastion UP, the BSP’s vote share has been consistently declining (2007: 30%, 2012: 25.9%, 2017: 22.23%).

These electoral losses were inflicted by the electorate. But there were also political losses that were self-inflicted. Her political maturity was questioned when she expelled her close confidant Babu Singh Kushwaha, a strong leader of the most-backward sections, just before the 2012 assembly polls that offered 9% Kushwaha votes to SP on a platter, leading to Akhilesh’s comfortable win. She replicated her folly by dismissing another most-backward leader Swami Prasad Maurya and Dalit leader R K Chaudhury a few months before the 2017 assembly polls that further eroded her backward and Dalit base.

After her debacle in the recent polls in UP, she dismissed her party’s Muslim face Naseemuddin Siddiqui, holding him responsible for the BSP’s failed Dalit-Muslim coalition. Finally, her decision to resign from the Rajya Sabha in July 2017, on the flimsy ground that she was not allowed to speak, was a self-goal.

However, Mayawati is trying to make a comeback. Her recent rally at Meerut on September 18 was an effort to virtually start an early electoral campaign for the 2019 LS polls. Can Mayawati do it single-handedly? Her strong pillars have gone one by one; only Satish Mishra remains. Mayawati must understand that running a national party may not be possible if she continues to follow her traditional style of political management.

She must focus on rationalising ideology and making it more contextual, building a vibrant organisational network that may give direction to her grassroots cadre and channelise their enthusiasm and energy. While she may continue to be ‘supreme leader’, she must evolve collective leadership, giving real power of discussion and dissent to top leaders of the party, not just making them ‘yes Behenji’ types!

Mayawati is at the crossroads of identity and inclusive politics. She was roped into politics by Kanshiram in 1977 and, for the next 25 years, she pursued identity politics, consolidating BSP’s Dalit base through the All-India Backward (SC, ST, OBC) And Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4). But when she realised that her vote base was not expanding and BSP’s seat-share was stuck at 67 (in both 1993 and 1996 UP polls), she decided to adopt inclusive politics. Soon, her vote-share leapfrogged to 30%, giving her an absolute majority in 2007.

Failed coalition

But, her inclusive politics was founded on a novel social engineering experiment of Dalit-Brahmin coalition by its architect Satish Mishra. Unfortunately, instead of taking it forward post-2007, she developed ambitions to play an active role in national politics. That resulted in two negative developments.

One, the Dalit-Brahmin coalition could not become a permanent electoral arrangement for the party and was frittered away; two, Dalits started realising that they were losers as Brahmins and Muslims intruded into their political spaces at organisational and ministerial levels.

That was a serious loss to Mayawati as this was the starting point of erosion in her Dalit base. In subsequent elections in UP, BSP lost 23% jatavs in 2012 and 16% jatavs in the 2014 LS polls. In the 2017 assembly polls, the party further lost 11% ati-Dalit votes. Can Mayawati retrieve these lost Dalits to her side again?

Mayawati must be sceptical about this, because Dalits are no more captives of identity politics. Many have moved up the economic hierarchy and aspire to move up the social hierarchy, too, a phenomenon referred to as sanskritisation by the late sociologist M N Srinivas. So, the old identity card may not work now.

Secondly, the BJP has made inroads among Dalits in Mayawati’s bastion. In two consecutive polls, BJP has won a large number of seats, including reserved seats, for SCs. In 2014 LS, BJP won all 16 reserved LS seats from UP, and in the 2017 assembly polls, it won 75 of the 85 reserved seats. Thus, with such a large Dalit contingent of MPs and MLAs, BJP appears to be a better bet for Dalits to get connected to the government and getting their work done. One wonders why they will be attracted to Mayawati, who is now neither here nor there.

That Mayawati was on the horns of a dilemma was amply demonstrated when she took a sudden decision to gather a Dalit-Muslim coalition in the 2017 UP polls, renouncing her earlier Dalit-Brahmin coalition. In the process, she could neither bring Muslims to her side nor retain Brahmins with her.

Mayawati appears confused and continues to commit mistakes. Without modernising BSP’s ideology, revamping the party organisation and evolving collective leadership, Mayawati’s political-electoral strategies can only be self-defeating.

(The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur)
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