Cover Story
Uttar Pradesh: Dalit Politics at the Crossroads
by Mrinmay

The Lok Sabha election results of 2024 have spurred the debate about the role and future of Bahujan Samaj Party. The party contested elections on all the seats of Uttar Pradesh but could not win any. Nevertheless, it was successful in damaging the BJP and India alliance on some seats. The supporters of the Samajwadi party and India alliance estimate a loss of about 16 seats due to the BSP. They further allege that BSP decided to go alone in the elections to benefit the BJP and fielded candidates with the intention of damaging the India alliance. The truth behind these accusations will be ascertained in due course but there can be no denying the fact that the tactics and decisions of BSP and its supremo Mayawati during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections have created a sense of suspicion in the minds of its social base. This has resulted in a section of its social base voting for the India alliance and producing a favourable result for the alliance in Uttar Pradesh.

The electoral fortunes of BSP had started declining from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The results of that election indicate that in pockets of sharp communal polarisation, the core voters of BSP, Jatavs voted for BJP and it fetched them 73 seats. The BSP got 19.7 % votes and could not win a single seat. Buoyed by the results, the BJP repeated this tactic again to its advantage in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections and obtained results similar to 2014. In a nutshell, a sharp communal polarisation by BJP facilitated the transfer of dalit votes from the BSP's fold to its kitty. Statistics point out that even in this situation, the Muslim voters continued to repose faith in BSP. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there was an alliance of BSP and SP which clearly benefited BSP and with a 19% vote share, it won 10 seats while SP won 5. Just after these elections, BSP however snapped ties with SP, accusing the latter of not transferring its votes. The statistics however do not corroborate this charge.

In the 2024 elections, the vote share of BSP has shrunk to 9% indicating that even its core Jatav voters, who constitute 11%  of the state's population have not all voted for the party. However, in constituencies where Muslim candidates contested on BSP tickets, they also got votes of Muslims. Overall, the tactics of BSP was to split opposition votes to benefit BJP. The same tactic was used in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections which led to the re-election of Yogi government with a thumping majority and BSP winning a single MLA.

The surrender and a tacit understanding of BSP and its supremo Mayawati with BJP and the duo of Modi-Shah is a hotly debated issue in the corridors of power as well as the social base of BSP. This decade old relationship of these two parties had led to BSP being dubbed as the B team of BJP. The silence of Mayawati, who once was considered a strong and gutsy leader, on issues like threat to democracy and constitution is indeed puzzling, though to many political commentators, it is an open secret that she keeps quiet to keep the ED and CBI away. Mayawati's capitulation was also visible during the 2024 elections.

After the declaration of elections and till the first round of voting, it was being speculated that Mayawati might join the India alliance. Signals given by the Congress and statements of Akhilesh lent credence to this speculation. It was also anticipated that Mayawati might favour the alliance while selecting her candidates. And in fact this appeared to happen till the first and second phase of the elections, especially in Kairana and Muzaffarnagar seats. But after these phases were over, the BSP candidates started getting replaced to favour BJP.  The Azamgarh and Jaunpur Lok Sabha seats are two such examples. The abrupt public censure of her cousin Akash Anand by Mayawati and withdrawing him from campaigning was attributed to his anti BJP speeches which were getting a positive response from the voters. With his sidelining, the little that remained of BSP's credibility was also lost. After the declaration of election results, Mayawati has put the blame of her defeat on Muslim voters.

It is quite apparent that the BSP supremo is on her back foot and her social base is in a state of confusion. Those Dalits who are propertied, and who have had the taste of power which includes some old BSP leaders and their family members and others who have had the benefit of reservation in bureaucracy are moving closer towards BJP. This is an important development. One can understand it by going through some of the names of the people who have joined BJP. A close confidant of Kashiram and important BSP leader Gandhi Azad's daughter Sangeeta Azad contested and won on a BSP ticket from Lalganj Lok Sabha seat in 2019, joined BJP during this election. Brijlal, the Uttar Pradesh DG Police during Mayawati's regime had joined BJP in 2014.

Many dalit bureaucrats after resigning from service or post their retirement have joined BJP. Aseem Arun and Prem Prakash are two such examples. However, this option is not available to the poor, workers and dalit youth. In the last ten years, the Modi-Shah government has persecuted Dalits and by granting EWS reservation to the forward castes, diluted and distorted the very foundational edifice of reservation. Dalits have realised that in the so-called Hindu Rashtra in the making, Dalits will be subjected to renewed caste discrimination and no wonder Dalits and other backward sections have voted in large numbers against the BJP and RSS. The election mandate has shown that the churning within the BSP's social base has risen to a new level.

The fallout of these events has accelerated the quest for an alternative leadership in Dalit politics. The rise of Chandra Shekhar Azad Ravan should be viewed in this backdrop.  He led a powerful protest against violence on Dalits in Saharanpur in 2017. The Yogi government unleashed a brutal crackdown against him. His organisation, the Bhim Army seemed to emerge as a new rallying centre for Dalit youth in many parts of North India and now his spectacular victory in the Nagina Lok Sabha seat has further strengthened his position as a rising leader of Dalits, especially youth. The very name of his party Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram) makes it clear that he wants to contend with Mayawati over the political legacy of Kanshi Ram. It remains to be seen if the new party can carve out any different political identity for itself than the BSP.

Dalit Politics