Dalit politics is in ferment. BJP, RSS, new Dalit leaders, even SP are players. Where does BSP stand?

The steady exit of BSP leaders from the party in recent months amid early electoral manoeuvres in UP has put Mayawati under great pressure. Few political movements have suffered such rapid diminution like that of BSP. Once the vehicle for Kanshi Ram’s seductive idea of the bahujan vote anchored by a core Dalit base rallying other socially disadvantaged communities neglected by Congress, mandir-masjid and Mandal politics, BSP is now floundering. Unlike other supremo-led parties, Mayawati projects complete detachment from masses. For a party that wants to be in comeback mode, an inaccessible chieftain is rather unhelpful.

Mayawati’s mystique as a Dalit woman who stormed the citadels of power is also dissipating. Even Dalit politics, her primary stomping ground, has undergone a churn. BSP failed to connect with incidents like the Rohit Vemula suicide or the Una flogging incident that triggered nationwide outrage. Mayawati’s consecutive losses in 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019 have turned many young Dalits to search for new political moorings. Some have congregated under UP BJP’s big tent unfurled between 2013 and 2019, and aimed at reverse polarising SP’s and BSP’s caste politics. RSS’s project of an ‘inclusive’ Hindu society embracing marginalised Dalit-OBC communities and their revered heroes has also stolen BSP’s thunder.

BSP’s Brahmin supporters of 2007 have all but vanished. Jatavs are so far sworn to Mayawati, as evident in BSP’s steady 20% vote share despite a decade of reversals. But there’s now grassroots mobilisation by the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad. SP under Akhilesh Yadav, without the Mulayam era hangover, is also trying to woo Dalit voters. AAP, with its heavily symbolic broom symbol and anti-establishment rhetoric, is another potential BSP challenger. There is also perhaps Congress, once the UP Dalit’s preferred party, before BSP surfaced.

Plus, BJP’s success in some states has made caste-based parties recognise their limitations. SP and Bihar’s RJD are attempting to outgrow their limiting Muslim-Yadav bases. On the other hand, TMC and BJD have stopped BJP by articulating their state’s overarching regional identity. With big tent politics again in vogue, what’s BSP’s Plan-B?


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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