BSP's Maya and Dalits in UP
By Anand Teltumbde
18 April, 2012
The single biggest shocking fallout of the recent assembly elections in five states is the big reversal that BSP suffered.
Just five years ago Mayawati had stunned everyone by winning 206 seats in the UP Assembly, well past the majority mark. In the hopelessly fragmented politics of the state, which had not seen the single party majority since 1993, this was a veritable feat that escaped all predictions of poll-pundits. As a matter of fact, no one has ever predicted BSP's rise in UP at any point in time. It always came as a bitter surprise in elite circles in which such games are played. 2007, was moreover the test of Mayawati's big gamble on ‘ sarvajan ' strategy abandoning the ‘ bahujan ' that had catapulted this daughter of an ordinary dalit to be the chief minister of the largest state of India, not once but three times. The process of cultivating bahujan with the slogans like ‘ tilak, taraju, aur talwar; inako maro jute char ' or abusively asking the upper caste members to leave the election meetings right at the beginning, was not yet completely forgotten. Nor were the promises made to dalits that all their problems would be solved with the master key of political power. People were skeptical about the sarvajan strategy really adding upper caste votes to the BSP kitty in face of the palpable danger of alienating some of the Jatava/chamars, who constituted her core constituency. The latter, and indeed all bahujans, stood by her rock like and won her unencumbered power. What has happened this time that the skyward trend (11.12 % votes in 1993, 19.64 % in 1996, 23.06% in 2002 and 30.43% in 2007) it created right since its foray into electoral politics in UP is reversed (to 25.91% in 2012) for the first time.
2004 really offered Mayawati unprecedented historical opportunity to demonstrate how political power in a dalit's hand can make the state look different from others. Never before then had a dalit risen to be the head of the state independently. Many Dalits had become chief ministers before but as a dalit mascots of the ruling class parties. The rise of the BSP itself with its aggressive projection of a party of 85 percent against the traditional ruling classes, albeit with caste count, was inspiring enough to common dalit folks particularly in the context of the collapse of the RPI experiment. Mayawati's previous stints were brief, the first in 1995 and the second in 1997 of less than six months each and the third little longer, of about 16 months, with the support from others could not be expected to make that kind of a mark. They were used to fortify her constituency. As she had declared during her first stint ‘consolidation of dalit vote bank' was her ‘ biggest achievement' (The Pioneer, 23 October1995, p. 9). Renaming public institutions and places after bahujan icons, particularly Dr Ambedkar, erecting their statues across the state, creating new districts after them worked well to impose dalit presence all over the public space.
Notwithstanding this motive, some of the schemes she launched significantly benefitted dalits. For example, the Ambedkar village scheme she launched during her very first stint allotted special funds for socio-economic development to villages which had a 50 per cent SC population. In June 1995, during her second stint, she extended this scheme to the villages which had a 22–30 per cent SC population. All in all, 25,434 villages were included in the Ambedkar Village Scheme. The Dalits of these villages received special treatment since roads, hand-pumps, houses, etc., were built in their neighbourhoods. It is due to these material benefits that Dalits enthusiastically called her government as their own. People also were generally happy with her autocratic style of governance as it meant decisive response and improved law and order situation. Unfortunately, the imperatives of power misled her to commit excesses in identitarian fortification of her core constituency with huge investments in building Ambedkar and Kanshiram (and even her own) memorials and organizing gala birthday bashes.
Surely, she could have used her administrative prowess to curb atrocities on dalits with heavy hand, she could have improved basic public services such as education, health, and transport; made her administration people friendly and possibly tried to create village fora that would lead to weakening of castes. Instead, she adopted ultra feudal model with all regal pomp and darbar culture -- distancing herself from masses, distributing grants to her loyal and extracting rents from others in exchange of political favours. In the country where corruption is the way of life, she earned a dubious epithet of being most corrupt. While these traits could be considered as influence of political compulsions during her earlier stints; her fourth stint confirmed them to be her choice.
Marsh of Electoral Politics
While Mayawati could surely accomplish the above indicated tasks of peoples' empowerment, the real question is whether she would have survived in politics. Do people really matter in our democracy? Yes, they do figure once in five years at the polling booths to decide their ruler. But this innocuous looking task involves management with intricate broking networks of castes and communities and huge upfront competitive investments to keep them oiled. These investments come from moneybags in the form of party funds and these days even from candidates who literally buy their candidature. The idea about the magnitude of the return on these investments can be had from the asset declarations of the candidates who contested two consecutive elections. The analysis provided by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Uttar Pradesh Election Watch (UPEW) revealed that the average asset of the 285 re-contesting MLAs for UP 2012 elections increased from 1.21 crore (2007) to 3.56 crore (2012), giving the growth of 194 per cent. And these are just average! Paradoxically, as these returns looked upwards over the years, the voice of people, the metric of democracy, has suffered contraction.
Could Mayawati escape this inexorable logic of politics? The answer is certain no but as the fact reveals she has not been just a compliant but one who has outdone others in the game. Her BSP had the maximum candidates (120) who re-contested the elections whose asset grew by whooping 226 per cent from average Rs 1.22 crore to 3.97 crore. It is surely exceeded by the ‘pacesetter' Congress (27) by 244 per cent, RLD (6) by 421 per cent, Qaumi Ekta Dal (2) by 343 per cent, and Ittehad-E-Millat Council (1) by 523 per cent, but they are insignificant in the numbers involved as indicated in the brackets against them. In the top ten re-contesting candidates by quantum growth in assets also BSP tops the list with his candidate from Allahabad – Nand Gopal increasing his wealth by 79 crores. BSP dominates the list with five candidates compared to INC's two and SP's one.
Money and criminality are not essentially disconnected. But insofar its measure as the registered cases go, is dependent on political power. Since BSP was in power, the criminality of SP, its arch rival may be amplified and that of BSP dampened. Notwithstanding this fact, the ADR/UPEW data reveals that BSP is not far behind in terms of putting up candidates with criminal charges. SP had maximum of 199 out of 401, i.e., 50 per cent candidates with live criminal cases against them. BJP, the self-proclaimed ‘party with difference' stands next highest with 144 out of 397 (36 %), the INC comes the third with 120 out of 354 (34 %) and BSP is close fourth with 131 out of 403 (33 %) in terms of candidates with pending criminal cases. Look at BSP from any other angle; it would appear no different from any other ruling class party, fully sucked in by the marsh of electoral politics.
Illusion and Option
The immediate comment Mayawati had on the election result was that her core constituency of dalits is still intact and that she will come back to power in 2017. It is a typical statement the Indian politicians make. What makes them so confident? Their confidence actually stems from the great electoral system we have adopted to actualize our constitutional vision of giving ourselves a ‘sovereign, democratic, socialist, secular republic'. The first-past-the-post type of electoral system thickens the hope of any party with solid backing of as less as 10 to 12 percent voters, which practically could be ensured only by castes and communities. It means that one could rule with the consent of just 10 percent voters or with much lesser electorate. Look at the paradoxes of this system: The Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab got 56 seats this time with 34.75 percent as against Congress's 46 seats with 40.11 percent vote share. BSP's vote share in UP has declined only by 4.52 percent but it costs it a loss of 126 seats, i.e., 31.04 percent seat share.
Mayawati, for now is sure to go to Rajya Sabha and after five years, helped by the all pervasive mass dissent against any rule euphemistically named as anti-incumbency factor, and little fine-tunning of caste calculations will regain her throne of Lucknow. But what about Dalits, particularly the Chamar/Jatavas who are her core constituency? They do not have an easy option than clinging to her as they did. Contrary to the inference of some of the analysts based on the loss of reserved seats by BSP that dalits are deserting Mayawati, it appears that the core of BSP, as Mayawati claimed is largely intact. It is true that BSP has significantly lost the reserved seats since 2007: from 62 out of 89 in 2007 to just 16 out of 85 in 2012. But since reserved seats are not won or lost only on dalit votes, it would be erroneous to correlate them with dalit support or desertion. The Dalits in her core constituency will continue to support her as long as they see hope in BSP winning power, lest they should get beaten up in villages as is happening currently in UP at the hands of SP-goons.
While Mayawati is all the way winner, the Dalits in this game have been the certain losers. The illusion of political power as the master key for their emancipation has proved a chimera. They better realize that their real emancipation lies in the radical change of the system and not in being playthings of someone within it.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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