Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 15, April 2, 2011
BSP’s Route to 2012
Friday 8 April 2011, by
The next State Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are scheduled in the summer of 2012. This article presents the prospects of the BSP in next State Assembly elections. After securing absolute majority in the UP State Assembly elections in 2007, and the successful inception of social engineering, the BSP adopted the Sarvajan policy as a guiding mantra of the present BSP Government. This policy speaks about the inclusion of all sections of the society into the framework of the government’s policies and programmes, particularly social security and welfare related policies and programmes. Though the policy has exclusively been developed on the pedestal of Dalit-Brahmin coalition, which has been presented by the BSP as a social coalition rather than a political coalition, this coalition was seen as a project to take the BSP chief, Mayawati, to the post of the Prime Minister of the country. Unfortunately, the BSP could win only 20 seats out of a total 80 constituencies in UP in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, and this went against the rising expectation of the party to win around 50 to 60 Lok Sabha constituencies by capitalising on the Dalit-Brahmin coalition.
Looking at the complex nature of the execution of the Dalit-Brahmin coalition, which has not been able to generate much appeal for the BSP, except in the State Assembly elections in 2007, the BSP has to be careful in deploying the strategy needed to enable it to get the popular mandate in the forthcoming Assembly elections in 2012 in the State. The BSP does not follow the usual trends of democratic politics through which regional parties in other parts of India have emerged. The BSP carries a legacy of the prolonged Dalit movement with the overloading expectation to work exclusively for the betterment of the Dalits and oppressed sections of the society, no matter what political agenda the party is adopting and how the party is proceeding. The fairness of the means to achieve non-negotiable ends has not been given much thought within the purview of the Dalit movement in India. For the last two decades, the view has been established that empowerment of the Dalits can be brought about only if political power rests in the hands of Dalits. And therefore, regaining state power for the BSP in UP is a much prioritised agenda. Let us see in this article how the BSP is proceeding to achieve this goal.
Successes after Collapse
THE failure of the BSP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 compelled it to review its political strategy, especially the Sarvajan policy, though the party has shown reluctance to abort or reframe this policy. In contrast, the project of identity politics through the construction of monuments, parks and memorials got considerable boost from the BSP Government to control the damage which the party had faced in the last Lok Sabha elections. The astonishing victory in the UP Assembly by-elections in November 2009 encouraged the BSP to continue with the Sarvajan policy by retaining the much debated Dalit-Brahmin coalition. The BSP won nine out of 11 Legislative Assembly seats for which elections were held. Earlier, the BSP was representing only one seat out of these 11 seats. It was a commendable comeback by the party within six months of its collapse in the Lok Sabha elections.
The BSP calculated this damage as a short-term and inconsistent political fluctuation from the side of the Brahmins which ended within a brief time-span in the by-elections. The BSP’s decision to stand with the Sarvajan policy is also a consequence of its no-option politics. To return to its original political masquerade is not very easy and feasible for the party after it has made a long walk. If the party comes back to its ‘Dalit-only’ strategy, there would be no chance of retaining political power in the State. Since Brahmins have been included in the party’s camp, it is very tough for the party to throw them out of its umbrella to include others in a very short period of the time. Therefore, its success in the by-elections gave a sigh of relief to the party to proceed with the same political recipe.
The next success for the BSP came soon. The party won 34 out of the 36 Legislative Council seats, elected by the local bodies, in UP where elections were held in early 2010. This success was a consolation to the BSP that the party has not lost its base in the rural areas and there is considerable support for Mayawati and her party in local power centres.1 Political analysts have interpreted these successes as the BSP’s ability to effectively present its political postures before the Dalit community. According to this interpretation, the successes which the BSP has secured after its poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 are not the result of the impressive performance of the BSP Government in the State; instead, the BSP could successfully capitalise on the inexorable media campaigns against the party on the issues of overlooking the developmental needs of the State and concentrating only on statues and monuments in polarising the party’s support base of Dalits and poorest backward castes.2 There was a clear sign for the BSP from these successes that the party’s own paternal support, which comes from the Dalit community, has not gone in vain and Brahmins have supported it considerably in the last by-elections of 2009 and Legislative Council elections of 2010 in the State. The persisting presence of the Dalit-Brahmin coalition can be felt from the result of the by-election in the Etawah constituency which is dominated by Yadavs and is the homeland of the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav. The victory of the BSP in the Eatwah constituency confirmed that its political formula is conducive for the political success of the party, because defeating the Samajwadi Party in Etawah could not have happened if Brahmins did not vote for the party.
Ability and Inability
THE BSP, with mounting criticism, has been able to focus on the cultural policy which aims to prevent the expected damage in Dalit voters because of the party’s alliance with the Brahmins. However, the BSP is being criticised in different public fora and by various political parties for misusing public money in implementing its cultural policy. The Supreme Court of India is also hearing one case accusing the BSP Government of spending public money on the construction of monuments, memorials and statues. The BSP Government is claiming that this spending is less than one per cent of the total expenditure of the State.3 But, this clarification from the BSP Government seems to be different from the reality. For example, the total expenditure4 of the UP Government for 2007-08 and 2008-09 was Rs 2,46,069.70 crores. But, for the period of May 2007-August 2009, the government spent Rs 4500 crores for its cultural policy which is about two per cent of the total expenditure.5 The very aim of the cultural policy of the BSP is to break the century-old hegemony established by the Congress that has enabled the latter to rule the country undisputedly for decades. The BSP is also intending to establish the same hegemony, so that the Dalits can be retained with the party for long, even though the party takes some off-beat decisions, like the Sarvajan policy, to maintain its political power, which goes beyond its basic ideology.
Though the BSP Government has been successful on the political front, it has shown less concern and ability as far as the development of the State is concerned. It has not been able to take the necessary steps for the upliftment of the poor in the State and remains stagnant in managing the common needs related to human development. For example, the BSP Government has shown its inability to implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2010, passed by the Union Government, because the UP Government has no funds to implement this Act in the State. The RTE ensures free education to the children of the 6-14 year age-group. Nearly two crore children in UP fall under the purview of the RTE and this would cost a sum of around Rs 18,000 crores. According to the provision of the RTE, 45 per cent of the total expenditure should be arranged by the UP Government.6 Chief Minister Mayawati has shown her inability to bear this expense and asked the Central Government to arrange this money to implement the Act. A similar situation prevails in the case of electricity projects launched by the State Government. The BSP Government has indicated that it does not have funds to provide electricity to 10,000 Ambedkar Villages in the State. It should be noted that 1,28,518 hamlets in UP are yet to receive any kind of electrification—solar or thermal. In 2009, citing that the UP Government does not have funds, the State Government sent a proposal for spending Rs 10,407 crores for electrification of the villages under the second phase of the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY). Under the RGGVY, the Central Government provides 90 per cent subsidy to the State governments, while the remaining 10 per cent is loaned to the State governments.7 The BSP Government has reduced its attention on its dream project—the Ambedkar Village Programme (AVP). This was the most prioritised programme of the BSP Government during its first three tenures in the State. Initially, the AVP was implemented in those villages where the SC population is numerically dominant. But, since the BSP has adopted the Sarvajan policy, the government has removed this condition and declared that this programme will be implemented in the whole State irrespective of the proportion of the SC population. Now, the AVP has lost its specific nature and has also lost the special attention that the BSP Government gave to it. Field realities8 suggest that the attention of the BSP Government on the AVP has decreased. Earlier, Chief Minister Mayawati herself used to make random visits to the Ambedkar Villages and inspect the progress of the developmental work going on in the villages. Ministers and senior government officials also used to inspect the villages, but now such inspections are not done either by Mayawati or her Ministers or by district officers. Therefore, since the AVP has been generalised for the whole State, this affects the ability of the BSP Government to implement it with efficiency as it had done during its earlier tenures.
TO succeed in the forthcoming State Assembly elections in 2012, the BSP has decided to follow the principle of restricted politics. The party has decided not to take part in any kind of elections till the State Assembly elections of 2012. After getting phenomenal success in the State Assembly by-elections in November 2009 and Legislative Council elections in March 2010 in UP, BSP chief Mayawati declared that the party would only be contesting the State Assembly elections of 2012, and till then party would not take part in any kind of elections, including the State Assembly and Lok Sabha by-elections, if they are scheduled, and also in the local Panchayat and Municipality elections in the State. There are three reasons behind the disinterest of the BSP in participating in the elections.
One is that it wants to keep the party out of the local confrontations which usually occur during the local elections at the village and town levels. Local elections are fought on the basis of local issues, personality factors and patronage. The political rifts which emerge at the local level during the local elections affect the voting pattern of the general elections like State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, the BSP is trying to keep the party insulated from these kinds of local confrontations which may cause substantial damage to the party’s support base at the village and town levels.
The second reason is that the BSP does not want to let the anti-incumbency factor operate against the party among the voters during the upcoming by-elections or local elections. The participation of the party would then result in usual debates and discussions about the failures of the party in the domain of governance and development of the State. Since the party is not fielding its candidates in all elections that are scheduled before the Assembly elections of 2012, the Opposition parties and leaders will not get any chance to criticise the BSP Government in public fora, meetings, assemblies and election campaigns.
The third reason is that the BSP wants to unite the local party cadres at the district, Block and village levels. Elections always bring about political uproar driven by personal interests, engender conflicts on ticket distribution, lobbying and other such confrontations that can create rift among the party workers. The BSP wants to avoid it, so that the party can fight the next Assembly elections with its full capacity and strength. The BSP’s stand to follow restricted politics seems peculiar in an open and competitive democratic system where a political party, which has been given popular mandate and is elected by the common people to represent them in the public space, shows its disinterest in participating in elections. This strategy of the BSP projects the party as a centralist party with minimallist democracy that stands for itself and not for democracy.
While summing up the discussion, it should be noted that the BSP is still relying on the Sarvajan agenda, regardless of its loss in the previous Lok Sabha elections which were very important for it to make itself stand out in national politics. It is clear that the party is not yet prepared to arrive on the national plane on the basis of its roots in UP. For the BSP, it is an unavoidable fact that the party must keep itself alive in UP if it wants be in Delhi. But, at the same time, it is also an unavoidable fact for the party to retain the support of the Dalits if it wants be in UP. And here the party has a tough choice between the Dalits and Sarvajan. Only the future will determine which choice would help the BSP to face the State Assembly elections of 2012 with enhanced strength and self-confidence.
1. Ajoy Bose, “Comeback Queen”, Hindustan Times (Lucknow), March 21, 2010.
3. “Major Achievement of BSP Government during the Last Three years”, The Hindu (Bangalore), May 13, 2010, p. 25.
4. Total expenditure for both years: 2007-08 and
2008-09 has been taken from the UP Government website- www.koshwani.up.nic.in, accessed on April 12, 2010.
5. “Maya Spent Rs 4,500 cr on Memorials”, The Indian Express, Internet edition, March 24, 2010, available at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/maya-spent-rs-4-500-cr-on-memorials/594865/, accessed on April 19, 2010.
6. “Maya to Centre: RTE Funding Difficult”, The Times of India (Lucknow), April 4, 2010.
7. “After RTE, UP does not have Funds to Light Villages”, The Times of India (Lucknow), April 9, 2010.
8. The experiences are based on the survey of three Ambedkar Villages and three non-Ambedkar Villages in UP in the period between October 2009 and July 2010 carried by the author for his doctoral study.
Shyam Singh, Ph.D, is a Fellow of the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore.