Dalits prepare to go different ways as BSP implodes in UP
It was the Bahujan Samaj Party that brought them together and it is, again, the BSP that is slowly driving them away.
By Amita Verma
Lucknow, Jan 9 (IANS) It was the Bahujan Samaj Party that brought them together and it is, again, the BSP that is slowly driving them away.
The parry itself is imploding.
After nearly two decades, Uttar Pradesh is likely to witness a fragmentation of Dalit votes that is bound to weaken the political base of the BSP.
With the announcement of election dates, Mayawati becomes the only leader who will guide her voters into election without addressing them even once.
The rallies addressed by BSP MP Satish Chandra Mishra have been aimed at bringing Brahmins into the BSP, rather than in keeping the Dalits together.
Dalits in Uttar Pradesh are an influential caste group Their population is around 21.6 per cent, which includes 66 Dalit sub castes. Seventeen of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP are reserved for Scheduled Castes.
Of these, the BJP won 14 in the 2019 general election, including the Hathras seat. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won two and the Apna Dal one seat.
This proves that on its own, the BSP cannot get elected unless it has the support of other caste groups.
Since 1993, when late Kanshi Ram formed an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and formed the first BSP government in a coalition, Dalits have been voting en bloc for BSP.
It was Mayawati who led the BSP to its first government with a majority in 2007 and in 2022, it is Mayawati's unexplained inertia that had led to the dismantling of her own party and also her vote base.
Since 2012, whether BSP's vote power has been in the decline and its oft-tested Dalit-Muslim card is no longer in play.
"It is only the Jatav community that remains loyal to the BSP while other sub-castes are searching for greener pastures. Dalits, in general, are disillusioned with Mayawati's leadership since the BJP came to power in UP. Her statements are erratic and leave her voters confused about her relationship with the BJP. This political inconsistency that made Muslims think twice about supporting BSP. Dalit Muslims and Dalit, to a considerable extent, are shifting to the Samajwadi Party who seems better positioned to defat the ruling BJP," said Israr Ahmad, a former BSP leader.
Muslims have also been upset after Mayawati came on to a stage at her party office last year, carrying a 'trishul' while a bunch of supporters chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'.
"This was the last thing we expected from the BSP president. If this is the new party posture, we might as well join the BJP," said a former Muslim MLA of the party.
Mayawati has sacked leaders with a vengeance and the exodus of veterans like Sukhdev Rajbhar, Lalji Varma and Ram Achal Rajbhar has ensured that these leaders have taken Dalits away from the BSP in their respective areas of influence.
The BSP now lacks the presence of a senior Dalit leader and the party which had won 19 seats in 2017, is now left with just three MLAs.
Satish Chandra Mishra, the second tallest leader of the party, is the new face of the BSP, along with his wife and son, who have been addressing Brahmins.
The BSP leaders in Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha now belong to upper castes.
Dalits, naturally, are wondering if this is the same party that swore its allegiance to Dalits.
A major factor, meanwhile, that is all set to divide Dalit votes, especially in west UP, is the emergence of the Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar.
Chandra Shekhar became a known face in the state after the Dalit-Thakur clash in Saharanpur in May 2017.
He has been relentlessly working at the grassroots level among Dalits - holding classes to educate Dalit children and protecting the welfare of his community members.
He has been visiting various areas where atrocities on Dalits have been reported and now enjoys a sizeable following among Dalit youth.
"We need a leader who responds and is accessible. Mayawati remains locked in her ivory tower and even during the Hathras incident, she did not step out. Chandra Shekhar is becoming increasingly acceptable because the BSP is losing its core ideology," said Raj Narain Gautam, a young student who now works for Bhim Army.
Even as Mayawati's presence recedes from the state's political horizon, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has been quick to step into the vacant space.
Akhilesh has formed the Baba Saheb Vahini and celebrated Dalit Diwali on Ambedkar's birth anniversary. He has opened his door for leaders expelled from BSP and is ardently wooing non-Jatav Dalit leaders from various sub castes.
The SP is trying to extend its social alliance to add Dalits and Most Backward Castes in UP by forming alliances with smaller caste-based parties and organising caste and community conferences.
It would not be surprising if the SP finally eats into BSP's vote base and get a slice of Dalit votes in these elections.
The BJP, on its part, has also worked on its Dalit outreach and even used the Buddhist circuit to appease Dalits. The party is focusing on castes like Pasi, Kori and Dhobi and if the party ensure representation of these sub castes in ticket distribution, it could grab a chunk of Dalit votes.
The Congress that seems to be making a renewed bid for power in Uttar Pradesh after three decades of exile, is also focussing on Dalits.
The Gandhis have rushed to areas where atrocities against Dalits have been reported.
Rahul and Priyanka were among the first to rush to Hathras, following the rape and murder of a Dalit girl in September 2020.
Priyanka also went to the home of Arun Valmiki, a Dalit who died in police custody, and even sent financial assistance to the family.
Priyanka, interestingly, has endeared herself to Dalit women.
"Look at her, she happily embraces us without grimacing. Have you ever seen a photograph of Mayawati embracing a Dalit woman?" asks Preeti Valmiki, now an applicant for a Congress ticket.