Mayawati Should Blame Brahmins, Dalits and Herself for BSP’s Debacle, not Muslims
Image Courtesy: PTI
The recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly election dashed many hearts, none more than that of Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. Sitting pretty on a vote-share of 22.23%, polled in 2017, Mayawati was battered beyond her worst nightmare. The BSP’s vote-share plummeted to 12.9%, and it bagged just a seat, down from the 19 it had in 2017. Such a disastrous performance required Mayawati to explain it.
On 11 March, the day after the election results were announced, Mayawati convened a press conference—and squarely blamed the Muslims for her party’s plight. She said, “To defeat the BJP, Muslims shifted their votes from the tried and tested [BSP, obviously] to the SP [Samajwadi Party].” This shift, according to her, had all the Hindus ganging up behind the BJP. “This wrong decision of theirs cost us heavily because the fear spread among BSP supporters, the upper-caste Hindus and OBCs [Other Backward Classes] that if the SP comes to power, there will be jungle raj once again,” Mayawati said.
Pity the Muslims! They are not only held accountable for their own votes but also for the political choices of other social groups.
Mayawati did not spell out the caste identity of “BSP supporters” who rallied behind the BJP. They were presumably not the Dalits, for she insisted that they, especially her own Jatav community, “stayed like a rock” with the BSP. Mayawati added, rather wistfully, “If the Muslim votes had got together with the Dalits, we would have repeated what happened in West Bengal, when the Trinamool defeated the BJP.”
Her claims had one of the two writers of this piece re-read the notes taken during the election tour of a pocket in west Uttar Pradesh, where the Dalits, particularly the Jatavs, are numerous, organised and assertive. These notes suggest that a significant percentage of Dalits were already ambivalent towards the BSP long before the poll bugle sounded.
Take Kawwal, a village in the Meerapur Assembly constituency, where the killing of two Hindus and a Muslim sparked the horrific 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. Pradeep Kumar, belonging to the Dalit caste of Khatik, was once an ardent BSP supporter—but no longer. His reason was that the BSP was “finished.” And because Pradeep could not stand the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, he had said he would vote for the BJP. Ditto Raj Kumar, a Khatik who believed an SP rule would have the Yadavs, the supporters of Akhilesh Yadav, oppress the Dalits. There had also been a push factor working on Pradeep—the lure of Hindutva.
In a market close to Saharanpur’s Ranghadon ka Pul locality works Thakur Das, a shoe-maker, whose earnings are barely enough to sustain his family comprising four daughters and two sons. He had predicted, “The Valmikis are drifting towards the Samajwadi Party, away from the BJP and the BSP, ever since the Unnao incident, which has left them angry.”
In Unnao, in 2017, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped, for which BJP leader Kuldeep Singh Sengar was sentenced to life imprisonment and found guilty of killing the victim’s father.
Perhaps the memory of the Valmiki girl of Hathras, who was raped and brutally assaulted, because of which she died, and her hasty cremation had had the Dalit sub-caste’s cup of woes to overflow. In fact, Dalits activists often expressed to the two writers, separately, their sheer incomprehension at Mayawati not hitting the streets on the issue of caste atrocities. Their incomprehension partially explains why non-Jatav castes did not vote for the BSP, as is evident from the Lokniti-CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) 2022 post-poll survey.
For instance, only 23% of non-Jatav Dalits voted for the BSP in 2022, down from the 44% in 2017. Their drift away from Mayawati has been more or less a constant feature in Uttar Pradesh. In 2007, when the BSP came to power, 71% of Valmikis voted for it, but only 42% did in 2012, when it was ousted from power.
Even the Jatavs, whom Mayawati specially mentioned in her press conference, decide to overwhelmingly vote for the BSP when they think she has a chance to come to power. In 2007, 86% of Jatavs voted for the BSP, but only 62% did in 2012. In 2017, believing Mayawati could take advantage of anti-incumbency against then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, 87% of Jatavs rallied behind the BSP. In 2022, only 65% did. It almost seems a rule that the BSP performs well only when the Jatavs consolidate behind it.
On the tour of west Uttar Pradesh, one of the two writers found the Jatavs torn between their loyalty to the BSP and the futility of voting for it. They were, weeks before the polls, mulling whether the BJP or the SP was most beneficial to them – or less inimical to their interests.
Sandeep, a cop belonging to the Jatav caste, has relatives in Saharanpur’s Ranghadon ka Pul locality. He had said he would vote for the SP in a reaction to the BJP government’s failure to control prices and provide jobs. Mind you, Sandeep had always voted for the BSP until this year. Savvy, he knew the BSP was going to take a beating.
The dilemma of the Jatavs was most evident at Shobhapur, a village in Meerut’s suburb, where they count for 3,600 out of 6,300 voters. A nauseating stench hung in the air as the village lacked a modern drainage system. Here resides Ravinder Kumar, who lost his job in a restaurant during the pandemic-induced lockdown. Then an old kidney problem resurfaced. He said that since he did not benefit from the Adityanath government’s welfare programme, he would not vote for the BJP.
BSP then? Ravinder, in his mid-thirties, has always been a BSP voter, except once when he voted for the Congress party. He said he would decide his vote after checking out whether the Samajwadi Party or the BSP had a better chance to come to power. Sushil Kumar voted for the BJP in 2019, not least because there was a wave favouring that party. “It becomes very difficult for Dalits not to vote for the party supported by everyone,” he had said. Fifteen years earlier, men like Ravinder and Sushil would have constituted Mayawati’s army of diehard supporters.
Yes, some Dalits try to get a measure of the political mood among the Muslims to take their voting decisions, a point harped upon by Saharanpur’s Govind, a 30-year-old Jatav employed in a gas agency. Since Mayawati became Chief Minister thrice with the BJP’s support—in 1996, 1997 and 2002—Govind had said he would vote for her, believing Uttar Pradesh would return a hung Assembly. That, he had thought, was the best way of stopping the SP from coming to power.
But then, if Dalits look at the Muslims to decide their voting choices, it also works the other way around. Muslims closely observe the political inclination of other communities to estimate which party is best placed to defeat the BJP, inarguably their tormentor, whom they do not wish to see wield power.
Indeed, Muslims were not wrong in concluding that Mayawati had lost Dalit support, without which she could not challenge the BJP. The Lokniti-CSDS data shows far less than 50% of Muslims supported the BSP even during its glorious years. Only 17% of them voted for the BSP in 2007, 20% in 2012 and 19% in 2017.
In 2022, Muslim support for the BSP hit rock bottom—6%. Quite clearly, they rightly assessed that the BSP was not in the race. Worse, she did not even try to woo the Muslims. All Mayawati did was to field a plethora of Muslim candidates, believing they would win the support of their community, which is thought to be swayed by its atavistic passion. Contrast this to the numerous sammelans she organised to court the Brahmins. These sammelans were held, among other places, in Ayodhya, Prayagraj and Mathura, which have a deep religious significance for the Hindus.
It is a myth that the support of Brahmins enabled the BSP to come to power in 2007. For sure, 20 out of 51 BSP candidates won that year. The Lokniti-CSDS data, however, shows only 16% of Brahmins voted for the BSP. Since the BJP was not billed to come to power in 2007, the Brahmins voted for those of their caste candidates whose parties could win the support of other social groups. Then the BSP had the enviable capacity to transfer the votes of Dalits and the Most Backward Classes to whoever Mayawati wished.
The same Lokniti-CSDS data show that only 19% Brahmins voted for the BSP in 2012, and just 2% in 2017. For all the sammelans Mayawati held, guess the percentage of Brahmins who voted for the BSP in 2022?
It was not even 1%, too low for the Lokniti-CSDS data to record it. Obviously, Mayawati and Dalit intellectuals, who tend to perceive even her inaction as a stroke of genius, will ascribe the Lokniti-CSDS findings to the conspiracy of upper caste-communist intellectuals.
Mayawati has proved right AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi’s thesis: All non-BJP parties take Muslim voters for granted. Worryingly, though, Mayawati’s decision to blame Muslims for her party’s poor performance could turn the Dalits against the Muslims.
At her press conference, Mayawati said, “So they [Muslims] went to the BJP… This is a harsh lesson for us… that we trusted them… We will keep this experience in mind and change accordingly.” Does this not sound like a threat? Dalits intellectuals, from Harvard to Hyderabad, from Delhi to Mumbai, will likely perceive this ominous remark as a master-stroke designed for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
(Ajaz Ashraf is an independent journalist.)
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