Mayawati has done it again. Aligning with parties and dumping them at the drop of a hat has been her signature style of politics since she took over the BSP. She had earlier aligned with the Congress, the BJP, the SP, the RLD, the INLD and numerous other parties but broke those alliances over some or other reason, or sometimes without even any reason. Of course, Mayawati is only doing what the BJP and the Congress have often done to their allies at different times.
The other partner in the Uttar Pradesh alliance, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, stands in complete contrast to Mayawati.
Not long ago, the Yadav family had to face massive humiliation, with Akhilesh’s wife Dimple Yadav, and cousins Dharmendra Yadav and Akshay Yadav, losing their respective seats of Kannauj, Badaun and Firozabad in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. At least in terms of numbers, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party benefited more from the alliance with the SP, which won only five seats.
On the face of it, it seems that Akhilesh Yadav was the loser in the battle of 2019. His party was demolished electorally not only by the BJP, but was also left humiliated by the BSP. But Akhilesh Yadav never lost his calm and responded with restraint when facing several allegations from Mayawati about the alliance’s poor show in the general elections.
Akhilesh Yadav can still change the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, despite the defeat. He forged an unthinkable, and what many called “unnatural”, alliance before the election. He showed vision. He now needs to show more of that and reach for another unthinkable, unnatural game-changing goal – of wooing Dalit voters for the Samajwadi Party and, in the process, turning it into a new kind of umbrella party.
A history of conflict and bitterness
After almost two and a half decades, Dalits in UP have voted for the SP and pressed their finger on the symbol of the bicycle in those constituencies where the BSP was not contesting. This act is very important. The relationship between the SP and the BSP was shredded to bits in the watershed year of 1995 when the infamous VIP guest house event took place.
That was the point of rupture not only between the SP and the BSP, but also between the SP and the Dalit voters. On ground, it translated into a conflict between Yadavs and Jatavs. The SP carried on with its politics without any consideration for, or being affected by its conflict with, the Dalits, the community that comprises 21 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population.
Even during the rule of Akhilesh Yadav, that chasm remained. The divide deepened further in 2012, when then SP member Yashveer Singh (now with the BJP) snatched the SC/ST quota bill for promotions in government jobs from the minister’s hands in Parliament in a bid to tear it. Moreover, thousands of Dalit officers were demoted during Akhilesh’s term, drawing accusations that his government was indulging in vendetta politics allegedly “because Dalits do not vote for the SP”.
Is this time for reconciliation?
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, traditional votes of the SP, the BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) got transferred among the partners almost seamlessly. During the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when the three parties had contested separately, their total vote share was 42.63 per cent. Despite 25 years of animosity between the SP and the BSP, their coalition managed to get 38.92 per cent votes in 2019. This shows that the BSP got the Muslim and Yadav votes, whereas the SP secured the support of Dalits.
At the political level, the SP-BSP alliance has ended. But at the social level, the SP has to find out whether Dalits have forgiven its past deeds and whether they are ready to become part of Akhilesh Yadav’s support base.
Akhilesh will have to take up this task of bringing Dalits into the SP’s fold in Uttar Pradesh’s changed political scenario where the Bharatiya Janata Party is now the dominant player, backed by its upper caste voters and those comfortably aligned with its Hindutva ideology. The BJP’s vote share in the state in 2019 elections was 49.55 per cent – in contrast to the SP’s 20-25 per cent, which it had been hovering around over for the past three elections.
The SP will have to build a new social coalition if it wants to remain a potent political force in Uttar Pradesh. And Akhilesh Yadav will have to lead from the front.
A social unity realised in past
The coming together of the backward castes, Muslims and Dalits is not a new phenomenon in India. As a social goal that was realised long ago, the Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu had its cherished idea successfully play out for almost five decades. But it’s not possible there anymore. The aspiring Dalits have their own formations and they forge alliances to maximise their influence.
In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav was able to form a grand social alliance of this kind to rule the state for 15 years until 2005. Later, when Ram Vilas Paswan parted ways, Lalu lost the support of the most vocal Dalit groups of Paswans or Dusadhs. Bihar’s current chief minister Nitish Kumar also poached on the Dalit vote bank by bifurcating the Scheduled Castes in two sections and thus ensuring that the Mahadalits (most backward SCs) support his Janata Dal (United).
Long before these politicians, Ram Manohar Lohia and Kanshiram both had attempted to forge a social coalition of backward castes, minorities and Dalits. That was the idea behind Kanshiram forming BAMCEF, an organisation of Dalit, backward and minority employees, in 1978. BAMCEF paved the way for the formation of Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, and finally the BSP.
SP plus Dalits possible?
It will be a tough task for many reasons.
First, Akhilesh Yadav will have to win over a social group that has never deserted the BSP. The good news for Akhilesh is that at least some of them are now becoming disenchanted with the politics of Mayawati. Many of them are unhappy that the alliance broke, since they saw it as the only possible way of stopping the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. At this moment, we do not know the level of disenchantment, but this is one area where Akhilesh Yadav can do the digging.
Second, the SP brings many bad memories in the minds of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. If Akhilesh Yadav wants to trigger the process of reconciliation, he will have to do a rethink on his earlier stand of reservation in promotion for the SCs and the STs. The best thing he can do is apologise to the community for what his party did.
Third, Akhilesh Yadav will have to recalibrate the party’s structure from the top-down to include Dalit leaders and give them stature and prominence, without disturbing its core vote base. That will not be an easy task.
Lastly, the SP president will have to create hopes and goodwill among Dalits and may have to reinvent his party in terms of ideas, ideology and slogans. Actually, he has to reboot the Samajwadi Party and try to achieve what Socialist stalwart Ram Manohar Lohia was seeking to when he tried to form an alliance with Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.