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Uttar Pradesh: A 'Mayawi' Revolution

The Bahujan Samaj Party's victory in UP was a culmination of Mayawati's politically clever strategy of crafting an alliance between the dalits and the brahmins. To label it a "social revolution" contradicts the very framework of this alliance as a politically convenient arrangement. Its replication in other states would depend on particular caste configurations in every state. It would also be too premature to read in the BSP's victory the portents of a future "dalit raj" in the country.


A ‘Mayawi’ Revolution

The Bahujan Samaj Party’s victory in UP was a culmination of Mayawati’s politically clever strategy of crafting an alliance between the dalits and the brahmins. To label it a “social revolution” contradicts the very framework of this alliance as a politically convenient arrangement. Its replication in other states would depend on particular caste configurations in every state. It would also be too premature to read in the BSP’s victory the portents of a future “dalit raj” in the country.


he victory of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh has been greeted with euphoria in several quarters. It is understandable that supporters of the BSP will celebrate their victory as common folks will “worship the victor”. But what about the intellectual class, that is supposed to see beyond the surface reality and present the meaning of events? They appear to have even overtaken the common masses in their excitement. Our political analysts have seen a “social revolution” in this BSP victory, while some scholars have read it as overcoming caste and even class in Indian politics. The kind of praise being showered on Mayawati is beyond comment. Diapankar Gupta, in his article in The Hindustan Times (April 10, 2007) has gone to the extent of comparing Mayawati with Mao as a strategist. He cites parallels in Mao’s and Mayawati’s incessant search for strategic partners; in the more critical aspects of their strategy – as when Mao allied with rich peasants and a section of landlords and when Mayawati joined hands with the BJP; as also in their key focus areas, i e, Mao never lost sight of the poor peasants, and Mayawati, her dalits. Dipankar Gupta ought to have searched for objectives, the prerequisite for strategies, before seeing parallels in them. While Mao had never compromised his objective to bring about new democratic revolution in China, Mayawati had never disclosed hers, save for the most implicit one – grabbing power by any means.

If the elections were a sport, there is no doubt then that Mayawati has grounded all the veteran players. If elections are a medium of securing personal power, then there is again no doubt that she has left everybody far behind in the race. But if elections are seen as a vehicle to bring about a change in caste/class relations to the benefit of oppressed and poor people, then Mayawati’s unscrupulous handling of them throws up a series of suspicions.

Mayawati’s strategy to create a constituency with dalits, Muslims and brahmins has been eulogised as a social revolution. One forgets that this was the precise strategy followed by the Congress allowing the party to rule the country for more than four decades after independence. Nobody would dare to call that rule a revolution, social or otherwise. Why then Mayawatis’s? It is explained that during the Congress rule, the strings of power were in the hands of the upper caste/class people whereas in the BSP’s case, it would be in the hands of dalits. Strictly speaking, the latter is not true. If by this is meant a dalit chief minister holding the reins of power, even the Congress had propped up dalit mascots to such positions. An example of Damodar Sanjivayya, who became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in the 1960s may be an apt reminder. Indeed, there have been many dalit chief ministers including Mayawati since then but this hardly means that the power strings have finally fallen into the hands of dalits.

Besides the error of equating an individual with the party or her caste, there is an intrinsic conceptual error in assuming the BSP as a dalit party. At no time BSP, and even its precursor movements such as the Bahujan and Minority Communities Employees Federation (Bamsef) and the Dalit Soshit Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) had ever claimed to be a dalit party. As its name, BSP, eloquently suggests, it is a bahujan party. Now that BSP has won as a party of ‘sarvajan’, it no more remains even that. Consequently, the bahujans certainly no longer hold the strings of power. Just because Kanshiram and Mayawati belonged to dalits, the BSP power does not become dalit power; it strictly belongs to sarvajan, the upper castes included.

Social revolution, which is transformation of basic caste or class relations, cannot come through the first-past-the-post type of elections we have adopted. While election victories in India do not need even the passive affirmation of a majority, a social revolution needs their active participation. With the growing fragmentation of the polity into interest groups associated with the process of uneven development, which expresses itself through existing fault lines such as caste, the percentage vote required to rule has already gone down to ridiculous levels. The BSP, in the present instance in UP, secured just 13.8 per cent of total votes in UP, which means

86.2 per cent voters are either passive towards the BSP or are against it. The election victory can certainly be an enabler to mobilise peoples’ participation but cannot itself mean it. Mayawati’s rainbow politics merely represents shrewd electoral arithmetic and hence should not be confused with social revolution. Her kind of caste-based coalition rather ends up deepening casteism, as the experience in UP amply demonstrates, which is antithetical to any social revolution.

Dalits and the BSP

Even though the BSP likes to don the bahujan identity, in reality its base has been dalits. It is they who provide the foundation for its victories. The BSP has built up this strong foundation labouriously over the years through its Bamcef and DS4 days. Dalits are about 21 per cent of UP’s population, far more than the national average of 16 per cent. The process of shaping a rock solid constituency of this dalit population involved a systematic operation combining an exclusivist strategy with a rhetoric of ‘manuwad’, an offensive lingo against the ‘dwija’ (twice born) castes and later, the use of political power to reinforce dalit identity by promoting dalit icons. In the early election days of BSP, Kanshiram used to publicly ask the upper castes in the audience to leave the place. Those days, BSP hurled several abusive slogans against the dwija castes. This offensive strategy cultivated identity and created self-confidence among the dalits. Having created this core constituency, the BSP could attract some Muslims and lower castes and made its mark in elections.

When it took some adroit manoeuvring to actually install a dalit’s ‘beti’ as UP’s chief minister, it meant the realisation of

Economic and Political Weekly June 9, 2007 a long cherished dream for the dalits. They felt as though they had become the rulers of the state. With this unshakeable dalit base as their support base, the BSP could try any kind of strategic acrobatics with impunity. When the party realised that it had reached the limits of its constituency and that a little increment could win for the party far more seats, it did a complete somersault and decided to befriend the upper castes. The dalits still stood by the party, as the BSP allied with the BJP, when Mayawati canvassed for Narendra Modi in Gujarat at the time when the entire world despised him for having watched over the heinous carnage of Muslims in the Gujarat riots of 2002; when the blue elephant of BSP ceased to be a symbol of Ambedkar’s struggle or emerging dalit strength and later came to embody ‘Ganesha’ and then the trinity of ‘Brahma’, ‘Vishnu’ and ‘Mahesh’ and now again, when Mayawati has done a full circle in discarding the bahujan garb and joining hands with the very same people whom she once disparaged as ‘manuwadis’.

What does this party of sarvajan mean? None of the political analysts have posed this question. This term indicative of collaboration between castes and classes should be fundamentally inimical to the caste or class struggle of the oppressed and exploited. It wishes away any contradictions in the society. If so, what would be the premise, one may ask, for the existence of BSP? How could there be a dalit struggle without the definition of its friends and foes? By pushing such issues under the carpet, it actually negates the dalit struggle itself. This approach suits the ruling class parties well as they have to cover up existing contradictions in society and seek shelter under such slippery terms and nomenclature to protect their class interests. Such terms cannot be useful to the lower classes that have to target these contradictions in their struggle. Sarvajan smacks of ‘samarasata’ of the Sangh parivar. As such, when the BSP claims to have become a party of sarvajan, it is admitting that it has not only become a ruling class party, it has become the ruling caste party.

Similarities with ‘Samarasta’?

Besides the support of the dalits, the specific situational factors in UP can be seen as conributing to the BSP’s win. The misrule of Mulayam Singh Yadav had alienated most sections of population beyond the SP’s loyal support base. They wanted a winning horse, which they found in the form of the BSP. The other two mainstream parties, viz, the Congress and the BJP were far too weak to pose as alternatives. Mayawati’s image as a sworn enemy of Mulayam Singh, her aggressive demeanour matching the ‘goondagiri’ of the yadavs, and her solid support base among the dalits easily scored over them and became the choice of people. Mayawati’s social engineering to get the much wanted incremental votes for her has worked perfectly in this congenial electoral climate. The strategy of social alliance with the upper castes, giving them disproportionately more number of seats than their numbers deserved, helped this consideration greatly and brought the BSP that crucial incremental vote to be catapulted to power.

This strategy is attributed to the political genius of Mayawati forgetting the fact that it could well be the brahmins. If one considers the amount of decline in the status of the brahmins, from the ruling caste to a political non-entity in UP, their anxiety to regain their lost status as the ruling caste in UP would perhaps be more intense than that of Mayawati’s ambitions. Their traditional party, BJP, stood no chance of coming to power in near future. Indeed, the strategy strikingly resembles the RSS strategy of samarasata to foster a broader unity among all Hindus. Whatever the source, for the brahmins and the upper castes, the only viable alternative available was joining hands with Mayawati. If they had indeed decided to capture the state power piggybacking on Mayawati’s BSP, would it not be amounting to turning the wheel of history in the reverse direction? Instead of Mayawati’s social revolution, would it not be the counter-revolution of the brahmins?

The marriage of convenience between the dalits and the brahmins posed least hurdles on the ground. As these two castes are placed at the two ends of the caste continuum, they do not have much social interaction and hence no ostensible contradiction. It is therefore seen by many as potentially replicable in many other states. The politicians have already begun dreaming of such combinations in their states for elections in the future. Unfortunately for them, this experiment may not be replicable elsewhere for the simple reason that none of the conditions that produced this dazzling result in UP may be encountered anywhere. However, it could certainly increase the influence of BSP everywhere.

Mayawati has set her eyes on Delhi. While she has not spelt out the time frame, the dalits have already started envisaging her as the prime minister in 2009. As trends show, the next general elections will have a strong anti-incumbency wave but its benefits are unlikely to accrue to any mainstream party. The largest beneficiary would certainly be the BSP. Thus seen, this dalit dream may materialise far sooner than current surmises would have us believe. But would this see a dalit raj? Would it be a revolution? The answers to such questions may sadly be all in the negative.



Economic and Political Weekly June 9, 2007

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