Almost every election in India initiates a debate about the performance and future of the Bahujan Samaj Party. And it is usually about how Kanshi Ram built the BSP and helped it grow, but his disciple Mayawati brought about its erosion. After the recent rout in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, there is murmuring that she has broken the gathbandhan with the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. This is likely to generate another round of comparisons with Kanshi Ram.
Why do these happen? The answer lies in the different working styles of the two leaders.
BSP under Kanshi Ram
Kanshi Ram, the founder of BSP, was an employee of a munitions factory under the defence ministry. He was exposed to the military working style and this was visible in the formation and running of the BSP. He was the president of all the organisations that he formed – Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). These groups ran like an army under an able commander.
Kanshi Ram was criticised for being undemocratic, but he compensated that with a good social attitude. One example of this was that he would have food only after all his associates had eaten, including the party’s band men. The way he referred to his associates and even Ambedkar –he called him lieutenant – was also inspired by the Army. The courage and style with which he countered and challenged opponents also came from his exposure to the Army.
In his Bahujan movement, his organisation adopted some districts to make them into ‘Exploitation-Free Districts’. This was like the way an army gradually takes over control of captured areas from enemies. The cadre camps, information services, intelligence units, teams of strategists comprising highly educated youth, the mechanism for revenue collection within the BSP, all seem to have been borrowed from the Army.
From the outside, his party looked like an organisation with centralised power, but his central office in New Delhi divided the work among sub-leaders according to their capacities. Ambeth Rajan who served as treasurer of BAMCEF, DS4 and BSP used to see finance; Baliram supervised training and strategy; Suresh Mane legal affairs; Pramod Kureel communication, to name a few.
In the field, he deployed Mayawati, Sonelal Patel, R.K. Chaudhary, Barkhu Ram Verma, Gandhi Azad, Phool Singh Bariya, Sukhdeo Rajbhar, and others. He had promised many leaders that they will be made chief minister after the BSP came to power. His military-style of working is well observed in the article of ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, who noticed this characteristic while the covering Lok Sabha election of 1989 in Phoolpur, where Kanshi Ram contested against prime ministerial candidate V.P. Singh.
Kanshi Ram had taken a pledge to remain unmarried and not have any property to his name. All these steps added to his charismatic personality, which was a mixture of saintly, traditional and modern– three qualities needed to become a successful politician in India, according to political scientist Morris Johns.
Kanshi Ram was a follower of Ambedkar, but consciously refrained from copying his manner of dressing and speaking. This contributed to the growth of his own leadership potential.
BSP under the leadership of Mayawati
Kanshi Ram’s disciple Mayawati took over the leadership of the BSP, but could not overtake him. The reason being her hierarchical bureaucratic style of working, as opposed to her mentor’s military style.
Before joining politics, Mayawati was preparing for civil services, which she herself revealed on many occasions. And then she was catapulted to the position of the chief minister without having any administrative experience. Hence, she had to rely on senior bureaucrats and learnt the style of running the BSP from them.
Two of the serious shortcomings in bureaucracy is power centralisation and monopolisation. Bureaucracy monopolises power in three ways – by increasing the number of subordinate employees, frequently transferring subordinates, and controlling financial resources. Mayawati has created a huge number of coordinators who are deployed at constituency, division, and state levels. In case of unsatisfactory results, the coordinators are transferred from one place to another. This is just like transferring IAS, IPS officers, which she used to do with as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
While making appointments in the party, Mayawati does not care about seniority and contribution of the person to the BSP. Instead, she makes random appointments to positions of vice-president, general secretaries, and secretaries. Since 2004, she has not contested Lok Sabha elections and Vidhan Sabha elections, and also has not allowed her senior party functionaries to do the same.
After the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, she suddenly removed Rajaram, the vice-president of the party without any reason and appointed her brother. After appointing her brother, she organised rallies in major cities of the country with his brother, as if she was introducing him to the supporters as her successor.
However, after seeing the negative response, she removed her brother and appointed another unknown person Jai Prakash Singh as vice-president. When he was embroiled in controversy, she removed him and appointed another low-profile person, Ramji Gautam, as vice-president. Unlike Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has a history of appointing unknown people, including peons, as general secretary and secretary of the party.
Although she removed her brother from vice-presidentship of the party, she herself facilitated the backdoor entry of Anand Kumar into party affairs by making him a trustee of the Bahujan Prerna Trust, which she formed in 2007 under her chairpersonship. Since then, gradually, the prime real estate property of the BSP located in Delhi, Noida, and Lucknow have been transferred to the trust. Apart from Mayawati and Anand Kumar, other members of the trust are unknown.
The lands of the party on which the state offices have been constructed in many other states are already in the name of Mayawati. So the transfer of prime property in the name of the trust created a sense of powerlessness among leaders of backward communities and pushed them away from the party. This has caused the erosion of the BSP’s support base among most backward communities, leading to defeat in successive elections.
The author is a PhD student of Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.