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The BJP is paying the price for alienating Dalits, UP bypoll results show

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Mayawati’s unexpected decision to support the SP in the bypolls was an act of desperation — not just her own, but also that of Dalit voters.

The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is not fond of pre-poll alliances. When she asked BSP cadres and supporters to back whoever could defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, she refused to call it an alliance. She didn’t even name the Samajwadi Party (SP).

Mayawati’s point is simple: her Dalit vote bank is easily transferred to other parties, but their vote-banks don’t like to vote for the BSP candidate. To a great extent, this is true.

The BSP also sees elections as opportunities to make Dalit voters politically aware, and this aim of the party is compromised when it leaves some seats for other parties.

There’s another reason why Mayawati may not have liked to support the SP in Phulpur. It was in this Lok Sabha seat that the SP had defeated BSP founder Kanshi Ram in 1996.

Maywati knew that supporting the SP in these bypolls might make the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) take renewed interest in her, and yet she made this move.

Demand from the ground

Mayawati’s unexpected decision to support the SP in the bypolls was an act of desperation — not just her own, but also that of Dalit voters. When she announced support to whoever-could-defeat-BJP, she said she made the decision after asking BSP zonal co-ordinators about the ground situation.

The Dalit voters in Phulpur were surprisingly enthusiastic about the alliance. This was unexpected since Dalits and Yadavs have been at loggerheads in villages as much as in the state assembly since the early 1990s.

The SP has been anathema to the BSP also because the SP’s goons had physically attacked Mayawati in the infamous guest house case of 1995 after she withdrew support from their coalition SP government.

The BSP also usually does not contest bypolls (unless it is itself in power) because it believes the incumbent government has an unfair advantage in bypolls. A few extra seats won’t bring it to power, which is all the BSP cares about.

This is why the BSP wasn’t contesting the Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypolls. Would Dalit voters have chosen the SP candidate had Mayawati not asked them to do so? Many Dalit voters in Phulpur surprisingly said they would have. They wanted to defeat the BJP.

It is this ground pressure from her voters that Mayawati was referring to when she said she made her decision after seeking ground reports.

When Dalits vote for the BJP

Thanks to the Modi wave in 2014, a section of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh voted for the BJP, as many surveys and ground reports showed. This came as a shock for the BSP, which has held sway over the Dalit vote-bank since the early 1990s.

Two-third of UP’s Dalits are of the Jatav caste, the same as Mayawati’s. The rest, the not-Jatav Dalits, especially gravitated towards the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha as well as the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections.

The largest non-Jatav Dalit community is the Pasis, who predominantly live in central UP. The BSP’s already weak influence among them was, in particular, exploited by the BJP. Dalits, the poorest of the poor as they are, were also impressed by demonetisation.

In the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections, when I asked a BSP booth worker in Phulpur what message he was taking to Dalit voters, he said he was trying to convince Dalit and lower-OBC voters that the BJP was planning to end caste-based reservations, calling it the “buniyaadi mudda” – the foundational issue. This blatant falsehood reflected the BSP’s desperation to stop Dalit voters from changing their party loyalties.

Apart from the BJP, there’s been another recent claimant to the Dalit aspiration in UP. As the BSP has been in decline, Dalits in western UP have found a voice in a new outfit, the Bhim Army Ekta Mission, formed in July 2015 by Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan.

Without the Dalit vote bank, the BSP would be nowhere. The BJP’s aggressive attempts to woo Dalits have triggered an existential crisis for Mayawati. This is what explains her great show of sacrifice in quitting the Rajya Sabha over not being allowed to speak, comparing her action to that of B.R. Ambedkar quitting the Nehru government.

She has now announced the candidature of a party leader who happens to be called Bhim Rao Ambedkar — once again to show Dalit voters why they need the BSP.

This is also why when ground reports said Dalit voters were inclined to defeat the BJP in these bypolls, she reluctantly supported the SP.

The return of ‘Thakurwaad’

In Phulpur, one found even Pasis wanting to vote for the SP candidate. Dalit voters said they were suffering under the Yogi Adityanath government. They complained about all kinds of issues — jobs, education, the absence of material benefits from the government, delayed MNREGA wages, reduction in the amount of subsidised foodgrains in PDS shops, troubles with Aadhaar linking, the Yogi government stopping pensions for women and the elderly, and so on.

But beneath the surface lies a bigger story. With the mammoth victory of the Yogi Adityanath government, caste relations on the ground have undergone a familiar change. When the government changes, the caste of the oppressor changes for the Dalits. Under SP rule it was Yadavs; now it is the upper castes, particularly Thakurs.

After Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur, became chief minister last year, ‘Thakurwaad’ has risen in the state. The Yogi government is perceived to be partial to Thakurs in the way the Akhilesh government was seen as being partial to Yadavs. Dalits feel left out of access to power, the benefits it brings, and access to justice.

Violence against Dalits

A week before the bypolls, an Ambedkar statue was vandalised in Meerut. A day before the bypolls, another Ambedkar statue was vandalised in Azamgarh.

A month before the bypolls, a Dalit student of Allahabad University was lynched to death.

The Phulpur Lok Sabha seat is part of Allahabad district. The killing was big news in the state, with Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav attacking the Yogi government over it. When the accused was arrested, he turned out to be a Thakur.

In May last year, soon after the Yogi government came to power, a Dalit youth died in Thakur-Dalit riots in Saharanpur. The riots resulted in Dalits having to desert their homes.

For damage control after the Saharanpur violence, Yogi Adityanath decided to go have lunch with Dalits. All good, except that, before his visit, his government provided Dalits with soap and shampoo. When Dalit rights groups alleged untouchability and tried to organise a protest, Dalit activists were detained by the police.

These are only some of the prominent incidents that highlight why Dalits in UP are feeling alienated under the Yogi government — thus pushing them to anti-BJP forces, even if it comes in the form of the Yadav-led SP.

Also read: Inside a Whatsapp group of BJP workers, here’s who they blamed for UP bypoll losses

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  1. SP & BSP are the de facto communalists. They openly support people on basis on Muslim& minorty, not BJP. Fake media despite showcases BJP in poor light.
    Request you Mr vij to improve your levels of yellow journalism.

  2. The greatest enemy of deserving Dalit is their own creamy layer which is not allowing the benefit to percolate down. Creamy layer is getting the benefit again and again, and poor and really deserving continue suffering. On the top of it, their leaders like Mayawati use them for votes.

  3. BJP/RSS party is based on feudal brahminical ideology. Casteism and communalism are the biggest threats which hinder india’s progress. We need to wipe out the ‘manuwad’ concept from minds of Indians.

    • SP & BSP are the details facto communalist. They openly support people on basis on Muslim& minorty, not BJP. Fake media despite showcases BJP in poor light.
      Request you Mr vij to improve your levels of journalism.

  4. The greatest enemy of Dalits are these so-called “Dalit leaders” .

    The president of India is a Dalit – yet according to Mayawati, the BJP has “Alienated” dalits ? This is just a desperate attempt by a bankrupt political outfit like the BSP to trade on its base to become a power broker in UP.

    • “The president of India is a Dalit” – unfortunately that looks like mere tokenism now. If BSP’s alliance seems like desperation to you, too bad because it worked.

      • it is tokenism. Dalit is planted as President only to gather votes. A case of Pot calling the Kettle black.

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