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The BSP was formed in 1984 after a long span of preparatory activities by the All India Backward and Minorities Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4). Its founder Kanshiram used to say that the Indian society and politics is marked by the hegemony of 15% upper castes and they rule over the rest 85% of the society. He called the oppressed majority Bahujan and brought the program for their political unity by which social and cultural upliftment of the Bahujan was envisaged. In an election manifesto released on the eve of State Assembly elections in UP in 1993, the BSP announced two core programs that are supposed to be at the heart of its social and political agenda: horizontalisation of the vertical social order and democratization of the undemocratic political order. According to the party, these programs form the guidelines to achieve social justice in both the caste-based Indian society as well as the Savarna (upper castes) dominated Indian polity. From this it is clear that social justice or Ambedkarism is BSP’s ideology, and horizontalisation of the social order and democratisation of the political order are the two core elements of that ideology (Gundimeda, 2014). The Bahujan as a broad community had to encompass all Dalits, Shudras and religious minorities which according to Kanshiram shared the same interests against the dominant Savarna castes in the vertically unequal social hierarchy.

BSP’s idea of homogenization of power or democratization of the undemocratic order becomes clear in one of its political slogans: Jiskijitnisankhyabhari—uskiutnibhagedari (Political representation and share in power will correspond to the support of the particular caste in terms of number of votes). The party believes that political power should be distributed equally among all the castes on the basis of each caste’s weight in the total population. According to Kanshi Ram, restoring power to the powerless is a two-stage process. In the first stage, the Bahujans, in the vanguard of the BSP, would capture state power. This would be done not by means of violence, but by the ‘ballot box’, that is, by taking part in the electoral process. In the second stage, the Party, by making use of the State, would initiate programmes such as the provision of better wages and good working conditions, which would empower the marginalized, thereby leading to a social transformation (Pai, 2002: 121–26). In addition to this the Bahujan identity had to be a democratic political alliance between the politically deprived caste groups of contemporary India under the leadership of the most exploited castes of Indian history, the Dalits. This coalition of all deprived minority communities (scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward castes, and minorities) in practical sense represents the majority of the population in India [Hasan 2004: 382]. The Dalits being the formulators and leaders of the Bahujan category are also the most stringent advocators of the BSP’s political strategies. Being Dalits, they endeavor to overthrow the social, political, cultural and economic dominations perpetuated by the Hindu social order. Such a revolutionary appeal is the basic component of this vanguard party to bring real social change in India and therefore, “Dalitness” becomes the core value of Bahujan political philosophy (Wankhede 2008: 54). In the 1980s, the period when lower castes were seeking assertion through identity politics, the BSP and its Dalit constituency employed three strategies to achieve its objective. The first was to publicly showcase Dalit caste identities with great pride. The second strategy was that of adopting individual caste titles to their proper names. The third and final strategy was of puncturing upper-caste pride through the Dalit adoption of the former’s caste titles, supposed to be the exclusive preserve of the caste Hindus (Gundimeda, 2014: 21–38).  The presence of Ambedkar’s statues in the Dalit localities motivated and shaped the contours of their politically charged identities.

But the idea of Bahujan as a category in alliance itself has been very problematic, as the SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities were not on the same unequal grade in relation to the Savarnas, but on the contrary and especially in the rural areas, SCs and OBCs have been competing against each other. In most of India there have been instances after 1960s when a good number of atrocities against the Dalits have been done by the Shudra castes and not by the Savarnas. The incidents of Keezhvenmani (Tamil Nadu, 1968), Belchi (Bihar, 1977), Morichjhampi (west Bengal, 1978), Karamchedu (Andhra Pradesh, 1984)), Chunduru (Andhra Pradesh, 1991), Kambalapalli (Karanataka, 2000), Jhajjar (Haryana, 2002), Khairlanji (Maharashtra, 2006) and many more can be cited hare when the Dalits were killed or oppressed directly or indirectly by the Shudra castes.  In the post-independence period and especially after the land reforms, the OBCs because of their abundance in rural areas have become politically and also economically strong and have acquired the position of dominant castes. It is these caste groups that are predominantly associated with and implicated in caste discrimination and atrocities. The contradiction between Dalits and non-Dalits that surfaces so violently in rural areas mostly derives its material sustenance from the opposition between the Dalit’s role as landless laborer and the Shudra’s new position as dominant landowner (Teltumbde 2010: 40-47).

In UP and adjoining areas of Bihar where the BSP gained most of its success, the pattern of relationship between the Dalits and Shudra castes are not much different from the cases mentioned above. Dalits in UP constitute 21.1% of the total population in the state and among them only single Dalit Chamar-Jatav has 57% of the total Dalit population followed by Pasis who are 16% and then comes the Dhobi, Kori and Valmiki. Because of this unique distribution of Dalit castes in UP, there is no significant competition and rivalry between these Dalit castes and they can be politically united with a common community interest. Unlike the Dalits of other states, Jatav-Chamar has been financially well and politically more organized since the days of BabasahebAmbedkar. These factors concerning the economic and political condition of Dalits in UP has brought them in constant opposition and tussle with other social groups of the state. Apart from Brahmin, Kshatriya (among them Thakur and Rajput) and Vaishya castes, the post-independence period is marked by the economic and political assertion of the Shudra castes that constitute nearly 45% of the total population and among them especially the Yadavas, Lodh, Pal-Baghel, Kurmi and Jats are very well-off.

These demographic conditions in UP has kept the Dalits and Shudras in constant rivalry and this rivalry has actually increased after the 1980s with the beginning of identity politics in the state. STs constitute a small section in the state and the religious minorities have always remained in dilemma on the question of which party is of their own. In this sense Bahujan as a category based upon the alliance between dalits, shudras and minorities had the lacunae of cohesive and organic unity. Though the Shudra and Dalits identified themselves as politically allied upon the call of their leaders, Shudra would not have been ready to form a Bahujan front under the leadership of the Dalits. In 1993 with the BSP and SP alliance, slogans like Mile Mulayam Kanshiram, Hawa me Udgaye Jai shri Ram were in the political air but, this alliance was possible against a common oppressor Brahmanism and only under the leadership of both.

Skand Priya  is an independent researcher and currently assistant professor of history at the Shivaji college, Delhi University

References

Gundimeda, Sambaiah (2014):The Bahujan Samaj Party: Between Social Justice and Political Practice. Social Change, 44(I) 21-38.

Pai, Sudha (2002):Dalit assertion and the unfinished democratic revolution. New Delhi: SAGE.

Hasan, Zoya(2004): ‘Representation and Redistribution: The New Lower Caste Politics in North India’ in ZoyaHasan (ed), Parties and Party Politics in India, OUP, New Delhi.

Wankhede, Harish S. (2002): The Political and the Social in the Dalit Movement Today. Vol. 43, Issue No. 06, 09 Feb, 2008. EPW.

Teltumbde, Anand (2010): The Persistence Of Caste: India’s Hidden Apartheid and The Khairlanji Murders.Zed Books Ltd. London and New York.

 

 

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Dalits face two contradictions : the caste contradiction with upper – castes that include ‘ class’ and, the ‘ class ‘ contradiction with other backward castes. Wile both SC and ST have some similar problem of upper- caste oppression, level of poverty, etc, there are quite a few ‘ creamy layer ‘ OBCs who not only align with the upper – castes,but also exploit dalits and other backward castes. This type of complex structure is manifest in Bihar and Jharkhand and in some parts of UP or MP. The BSP has also tried to align with upper – castes deviating from Kanshiram ideology. Moreover, dalits alone may not have sufficient support to take on the fascist forces unless they unite with ‘ poor ‘ OBCs and form a united alliance. The class and caste contradictions have not been resolved by BSP satisfactorily and therefore, the party is at the cross roads