Harish S Wankhede teaches political science at University of Delhi. He can be reached at enarish[at]gmail.com.
Analysing the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, many have belittled the Bahujan Samaj Party as having “lost force”, and suggested the “end of Dalit/caste politics”. The election mandate has been interpreted as a response to anti-incumbency, alleged corruption, and the burden on the exchequer from parks and statues. Deep down, though, there is a subtle acceptance that Mayawati’s rule has brought tremendous change in UP, at the sociopolitical and economic level.
However, the BSP should not limit itself to UP’s corridors of power. Current political conditions permit Mayawati to stretch into newer regions and communities, and become a formidable force in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
The recent elections have shown that she has the power to galvanise her core constituency, that Dalits remain the permanent voters of the BSP. However, it has been suggested that her social engineering with the Brahmins has not worked this time. It has been said that the Brahmins did not vote for the BSP (though it is unclear who they actually voted overwhelmingly for). The challenge for Mayawati now is to work harder at persuading these sections to stay with the BSP. Sarvajan politics comes with an ethical dilemma as it poses itself against the dominant majoritarian politics of OBC identity. The BSP must make sure its ideology and principles are not compromised as it presents itself to lead non-Dalit groups.
In 2007, it was said that the SP lost the assembly elections due to a considerable shift of Muslim voters to the BSP. However, Mayawati failed to sustain this support in the recent elections, despite having fielded the maximum number of Muslim candidates and having announced various welfare schemes for Muslims. If she can promise concrete measures to include Muslims in her social justice agenda (including the guarantee of separate Muslim reservation) and promise unconditional protection to their religious and cultural interests against Hindutva politics, Muslims may yet choose her again. This makes sense in the larger ethical project of Bahujan politics.
The BSP is also the third biggest national party with a growing vote share of above 6 per cent. In states like Haryana, Delhi, Uttaranchal and Punjab, the BSP has good prospects. In the recently concluded elections, despite no direct intervention and support from the party, the candidates did remarkably well, emerging as runners-up in many constituencies.
The party can make an impress on new sections of voters — mobilising Dalits and other politically marginalised groups (non-Jat groups in Haryana, Muslims in Delhi and migrant population in Punjab) can pay heavy dividends in the coming Lok Sabha elections. States like Maharashtra that have witnessed strong Dalit movements are a promising new frontier for the BSP — in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, it has already launched an impressive entry in the local elections.
UP should, of course, remain the central location of Mayawati’s politics — making two communities crucial, the Brahmins and the Muslims. A “Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim alliance” is a sure winner in UP, but almost impossible to achieve. These communities have their own strategic and separate interests (which often clash) — and it will not be easy for the BSP to solder them together. In states like Haryana, Delhi and Maharashtra, it could win some parliamentary seats only if the Dalit voter accepts the BSP as vanguard party.
BSP politics is based on the idea of fair representation of historically marginalised communities in the political sphere. It has mobilised Dalits, given them a dignified political location and made them vital to mainstream democratic struggles. And yet, being identified mainly as a “Dalit party” and a “one region party” have limited its potential as an alternative national force. The BSP should take the recent UP loss as a learning experience and imagine itself as an emergent national player.