Sarvajan or bahujan, Mayawati in ideological bind

June 16th, 2009 - 1:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Bahujan Samaj Party By Khalid Akhter
New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Two years after its historic victory in Uttar Pradesh riding on a rainbow coalition of the low and high castes, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Chief Minister Mayawati is caught in a dilemma — whether to continue its inclusive agenda or revert to her core Dalit base.

Credited with giving Dalits - whom she called ‘bahujan’ - their political space, Mayawati in 2007 adopted the new social engineering formula of ’sarvajan’, which included upper castes in her support base. But this inclusive agenda did not seem to work in the 15th Lok Sabha polls when the party managed to win only 20 of the state’s total 80 seats.

“We could not perform as expected. One reason is a palpable feeling of disillusionment among the Dalits as many of them believe they are being neglected, with upper castes and Muslims getting more play,” a Rajya Sabha MP of the BSP told IANS on condition of anonymity. In the BSP, nobody except Mayawati is permitted to discuss such issues in the public domain.

Now the dilemma, he said, was whether to continue with ’sarvajan’ politics or go back to the basics.

Dalits, constituting 21 percent of the state’s population, Muslims, making up 19 percent, and Brahmins, nine percent, had voted in large numbers for the BSP in 2007. Of the BSP’s 203 legislators, 61 are Dalits, 51 Brahmins and 26 Muslims.

But analysts say Mayawati failed to rise above identity politics and deliver on the development front to fulfil Dalit aspirations. And that contributed to the BSP’s Lok Sabha debacle.

“This time there was resentment among the Dalits and it reflected in their flagging enthusiasm to come out and vote as earlier,” political analyst Badri Narayan told IANS.

“After Mayawati came to power, the Dalit voter expected the party to deliver and bring about substantial improvement in their life, but this did not happen,” said Narayan, director of the Dalit Resource Centre at the Allahabad-based Gobind Ballabh Pant Institute of Social Sciences.

In 2007, the entire country was stunned when for the first time in nearly two decades, Uttar Pradesh got single party majority in Mayawati’s BSP, which walked away with 203 of the 403 assembly seats.

However, the magic did not work in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The BSP had expected to notch up 40 to emerge a kingmaker at the centre but won only 20.

A study done by the party revealed that the BSP’s performance in the assembly segments of each parliamentary constituency was also far below expectations.

It also found that the BSP’s vote share also actually went down from 30.4 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in the Lok Sabha elections. Party leaders attributed this to Dalit apathy.

“Mayawati has realised she cannot take her Dalit core for granted. This explains why Dalits are being given preference in the appointments that are now being made in the party for different posts,” said a leader.

This also explains why she has chosen June 19 to launch an “awareness campaign” among Dalits “to tell them that the BSP is their real saviour” even as the Congress has its own plans for the day.

June 19 is Congress general secretary and MP Rahul Gandhi’s birthday and his party plans to host ’sahbhog’ or community feasts on the occasion in Dalit-dominated areas where all castes would be invited. Rahul Gandhi is being credited for the Congress’ improvement in Uttar Pradesh from nine seats to 21 seats and many believe the party has eaten into Mayawati’s Dalit vote base.

“In her enthusiasm of inclusive politics to realise her own dream of becoming prime minister, Mayawati forgot the grassroots voter,” said A.K. Verma, who teaches at Christ Church College in Kanpur.

He, however, feels reverting to “the narrow agenda of Dalit politics would be a retrograde step”.

“Mayawati needs to consolidate her base and have a balance between her politics of development of Dalits in a real sense rising above identity politics and taking along other social groups as well.

“Also, she has to curb the extent of corruption which has seen an unprecedented high during her regime.”

(Khalid Akhter can be contacted at

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