Is it back to square one for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)? The primary party of the Dalits and the Bahujan Samaj in Uttar Pradesh looks all set to jettison the Sarvajan formula — a rainbow coalition that included the upper castes besides the SCs, OBCs and minorities.
Recent utterances emanating from the party leadership indicate as much. Faced with diminishing returns after trying to humour the upper castes for a decade, the BSP is returning to its roots for consolidating its core constituency of Dalits. It is back to caste-based mobilisation by deploying traditional tools of diatribe against Hinduism and strident Brahmin-bashing.
It is a hark back to the days when slogans such as “Tilak (Brahmin) taraju (Bania) aur talwar (Rajput), maaro inko joote chaar (Brahmins, Banias and Rajputs, hit them with your shoes)” used to figure in the BSP lexicon. The party, which bagged 20 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh during the 2009 General Election, drew a blank this year as a large part of its core constituency — the Dalits — shifted to the BJP.
In 1984, the BSP began its journey with a strident posturing against Hinduism and resorting to Brahmin-bashing. However, in a bid to enlarge its social base and rope in the upper castes, the party floated a new slogan — sarva samaj — to forge a new social coalition in 2005.
In the 2007 Assembly election, the BSP reaped rich political dividends and was able to form the state government on its own by winning 206 out of the total 403 seats.
Identifying its election symbol ‘elephant’ with Hinduism and upper castes, the BSP went to the extent of coining the slogan “Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai (It is not elephant, but Lord Ganesha and the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh).”
BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya, who is also the Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, recently launched a blistering attack against the upper castes and Hinduism, urging Dalits to stop worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses because “religious practices are nothing but a clever ploy by the upper castes to enslave the Bahujan Samaj, comprising Dalits, OBCs and minorities”.
However, BSP president Mayawati quickly distanced herself from the speech made by Maurya, saying, “The BSP has nothing to do with the utterances of Swami Prasad Maurya and whatever he said about the worshipping of Hindu gods were his personal views.”
But there is more to it than what meets the eye. Nobody is willing to take Mayawati’s denial at face value because the BSP is known for its tough discipline.
“It is next to impossible that a leader like Maurya would make an statement, that too about the core philosophy of the BSP, without the prior approval or at least knowledge of the party supremo Mayawati,” says Anshuman Dwivedi, a political analyst. “The denial issued by Mayawati is only for public consumption and also due to the general political environment against hate speeches.”
A series of incidents of communal tension and conflict across the state after the General Election, followed by the ‘love jihad’ campaign by the BJP and provocative statements by BJP MPs Yogi Adityanath and Swami Sakshi Maharaj in the run-up to the recently concluded bypolls to 11 Assembly constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, have vitiated the political atmosphere in the state.
“The BSP’s electoral strategy will remain the same but the mobilisation strategy will certainly change to win back the estranged sections of the SCs and OBCs, who crossed over to the BJP,” says Professor Vivek Kumar, who teaches sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “During the recent Parliament election, the BJP demolished the unity of the Dalit vote bank as it succeeded in making deep inroads into the non-Jatav vote bank of the BSP. The Sarvajan will be attracted to the BSP only if the party is able to retain and win back the loyalty of the Bahujan. Only then will the BSP be able to construct a winning combination.”
The BSP sources said the issue at stake is not only retaining and winning back the confidence of the core vote bank but also win the 2017 Assembly election.
“The change in the mobilisation strategy is the political compulsion of the BSP,” says Professor AK Verma, who teaches at Christchurch College in Kanpur. “After the complete rout in the recent General Election, the electoral prospects of the BSP in the 2017 Assembly election are troubling Mayawati. The issue is not the disillusionment of the upper castes with the BSP, but the other way round: the Dalits are getting disillusioned with the BSP and Mayawati.
“The BJP has greatly disturbed the game plan of Mayawati, who nursed the fond belief of eternal loyalty of the Dalits. Nursing such beliefs was possible during the days of traditional politics, but not after the emergence of the Modi factor. It is now for the Dalits to decide whether they would remain the votary of the politics of identity or development.
“By projecting himself as an OBC during the General Election, Modi has changed the terms of backward caste politics. Besides Mayawati and Mulayam, there is a third claimant over this vote bank, which comprises over 50 percent of the Uttar Pradesh electorate. The vote of the OBCs and EBCs are crucial for both the SP and the BSP and the third claimant has added to woes of both the parties.”
At the grassroots level, the BSP cadres are busy cautioning the Dalits against the dangers posed by the BJP to the overall unity of the Bahujan Samaj and its attempt to enslave them in the guise of development and employment. The cadres sought to convince them that the BSP is still the party of the Dalits, Mayawati remains the boss of the party and Sarvajan (read upper caste) leaders such as Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Mishra have not taken over their political organisation.
The BSP’s latest campaign did not attract the media’s attention and was ignored. However, the speech by a senior BSP leader, termed as hate speech by rivals, has brought the change in the party’s strategy to the fore.