As Assembly elections draw closer, the political heat gradually gathers its steam in Uttar Pradesh, the most crucial State having the highest number of Lok Sabha seats, 80. The results, undoubtedly, will have an impact on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. After failing to turn West Bengal saffron in 2021, the stakes for the BJP in UP are much higher, so high that the saffron party is aiming to return to power with as big a mandate as possible. Similarly, for the Opposition, the defeat for BJP is very critical in the State to increase their chances in 2024.
Interestingly, this time the four-time Chief Minister Mayawati, usually known as Behenji, is quite invisible in the campaign and for this, she has been facing jibes from other leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah. BSP later said that it is working on the ground without any hype and Mayawati stated that her party doesn’t have funds like other parties, so it will campaign at the right time to save money.
True that Mayawati in the past too had often avoided public meetings, but BSP was never ruled out as the contender for power in the State. But this time, it appears the party has been losing its relevance in the State, with Mayawati mostly relegating herself to her bungalow and expressing her views either through press conferences or Twitter. In addition to this, the party faced desertions of prominent leaders in the last decade. These were mainly seen as a sign of strong dissent against Behenji’s style of running the party, ignoring the views of other senior leaders. Besides Mayawati, the only prominent leader now left in the BSP is Satish Mishra, known as her left hand and also the party’s Brahmin face.
Still, BSP remains a factor in UP and this is because of the Dalit vote bank. In the caste arithmetic of UP, Dalits, who account for 21% of the State population, had almost entirely rallied behind Mayawati and BSP in the past. But with growing irrelevance of the party in UP’s politics, there are already murmurs in the political circles where the votes of the party will go?
Aware of the party’s decline, SP has already been trying to win the Dalit votes. Last year it celebrated the jayanti of BR Ambedkar, the tallest Dalit icon of the country, with pomp.
Obviously, this is an attempt to bring the Lohiawadis and Ambedkarwadis together under the new Samajwadi umbrella. Knowing the limitation of the Muslim and Yadav combination, the SP under Akhilesh Yadav has been trying hard to cultivate a new image of the party by giving messages to other communities, including Dalits and also Brahmins, that it is a party belonging to all communities. To be fair, SP under Mulayam Yadav’s son has been somehow successful in conveying the message that it is not a party of only Yadavs and Muslims. Akhilesh’s attempt reminds some of Mayawati’s social engineering to bring Brahmins, other upper castes and OBCs together with Dalits with the mantra of Sarvajan Hitay Sarvajan Sukhay, a mantra which brought her to power with an absolute majority in 2007.
Let’s not forget the BJP, which has been quite successful in social engineering since 2014 to bring various Hindu communities under one umbrella. The tag of being a party of Brahmin and Banias and the Mandal politics of 1990s with the party then strongly opposing the 27% OBC reservation by the National Front government led by then Prime Minister VP Singh prevented the BJP from penetrating into the corridors of the backward communities. But, with the decades of groundwork of the Sangh Parivar and the ascension of Narendra Modi, an OBC in the “Brahmanwadi”’ BJP, in the early years of 2010s, the saffron party has not only penetrated deeply among the OBC communities but also among a section of Dalits, particularly the non-Jatav Dalits. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, according to the CSDS-Lokniti post poll survey, 48% of the non-Jatav Dalits voted for BJP led NDA.
Out of 21% of Dalit population, 11-12% are Jatav Dalits and rest belong to other Dalits like Pasis, Dhobhis, Valmikis etc. Mayawati herself is a Jatav Dalit. Importantly, a majority of the Jatav Dalits have been voting for Behenji, even in her present declining era. For the Dalit community, Behenji, who became the first Dalit chief minister of the state, is a symbol of rise of the Dalits to power. She has been a symbol of pride for them, who for years yearned for equality in the society where they often faced discrimination. Unfortunately, they still face discrimination in the society, but no one can undermine the fact that for Dalits of UP, Mayawati becoming chief minister, without the aid of SP or BJP in 2007, is a turning point for them. That’s why for a section of Dalits, Mayawati still matters.
Nevertheless, the non-Jatav Dalits, not comfortable with the dominance of the Jatav Dalits in BSP, have been moving towards BJP since 2014. Although, it would be very naïve to think that all Dalits are happy with BJP. No one can deny that there is dissent among sections of Dalits too against Yogi-led BJP for being non-sympathetic to their views. Yogi belongs to the Thakur community, another very influential “upper caste” community in the State. In this case, sentiments of these sections of Dalits are shared by Brahmins, who were once dominant in state politics.
The Congress led by Priyanka Gandhi in UP is also in the race of Dalit votes. May be a section of Dalits of the new generation, not impressed with BJP, SP or BSP style of politics, may opt for Priyanka’s Congress. This would deepen more on Congress’s relevance in the polls but it is still a very distant player. More than Congress, Azad Samaj Party of Chandra Shekar Azad, a Jatav Dalit, is likely to attract a section of Dalit votes, who yearn for a new kind of Dalit movement in the society in the 21st century.
But Mayawati isn’t out, at least in influencing Dalit politics of the state. A majority of Jatav Dalits are likely to stay with her, but given the trends of past elections and the ground reality, non-Jatavs are likely to rally behind BJP, forgetting their anger as they are satisfied with the welfare schemes of both Modi and Yogi governments and the Hindutva card, where the saffron party with the help of Sangh Parivar has been trying to accommodate the feelings of the Dalits. Samajwadi Party, despite all the hard work of Akhilesh, is unlikely to lure the Dalit votes, barring a small section, until and unless it allies with Chandra Shekar Azad. The guessing game has started.