Mayawati-Congress battle is all over Dalit votes

April 23rd, 2008 - 12:45 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party
(News Analysis)
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, April 23 (IANS) She may be the queen of Dalit politics. But Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati appears rattled by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s determined attempts to woo back Dalits who once voted en masse for the country’s oldest party. Mayawati’s threat to withdraw support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) unless it announces a special economic package for the betterment of the Bundelkand region is a reflection of her fears, say political analysts.

Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has 17 members in the Lok Sabha. The Congress-led UPA enjoys the support of 293 MPs, even without the BSP support, in the house with an official strength of 544 members.

It is immaterial, therefore, whether she supports the Congress-led government or not.

In any case, the BSP is not a constituent of the multi-party UPA. And the consummate politician that Mayawati is, she knows the arithmetic. Still she hits out at her Congress detractors at every opportunity.

The reasons are not far to seek.

Mayawati cannot afford any shift in her Dalit votes. She knows that only the Congress can dent her Dalit fortress, which, after two decades, has made her one of the most important political leaders in the country.

As a result, she has increasingly trained her guns against Rahul Gandhi for his aggressive expressions of support for the Dalit community.

With 80 Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh is for the Congress a key state, a sprawling and populous region where it was once the king of all it surveyed and where it is now only an also ran.

Congress activists admit that the party has been badly battered in the state - notwithstanding the efforts by party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi to galvanise the depleting cadres.

Knowing well that without Uttar Pradesh the road to New Delhi is potholed, the Congress has pressed Rahul Gandhi, its young MP from Amethi, to infuse new blood in the organisation by going back to the Dalits.

Uttar Pradesh is home to 21.1 percent of the country’s total Scheduled Castes population of 166.6 million - or 16.2 percent of India’s total population. West Bengal has 11.1 percent of the Scheduled Castes, followed by Bihar (7.8 percent) and Andhra Pradesh (7.4 percent).

With the Dalits solidly behind her and with the support of Muslims and a section of the upper castes, Mayawati routed everyone in the 2007 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. A segment of the extremely backward classes (EBCs) also voted for the BSP.

The arithmetical cocktail of Dalits, Muslims and EBCs is solely responsible for Mayawati’s rise and rise in Uttar Pradesh. Since she appears to realise that the BSP cannot replicate the Uttar Pradesh feat in any other state, whoever challenges her authority becomes persona non grata for the firebrand Dalit lady.

In West Bengal, Dalits and Muslims are in big numbers but Mayawati is a political non-entity there. So also is her political status in Bihar, which has 13.7 million Muslims.

Any denting of Dalit votes by the Congress will not just harm her directly but will benefit former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, which, despite its electoral loss, has more or less maintained its voter base intact.

Yadav’s party polled 25.43 percent votes in the 2007 assembly elections, against 30.43 percent of the BSP. In contrast, the Congress polled just 8.61 percent votes. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) garnered 16.97 percent.

The Congress has realised that it cannot move forward without regaining its lost base. So it is eyeing the mass of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.

The move is strategic as well — in tune with the widely perceived growing bonhomie between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party.

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