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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 32, August 2, 2014

Journey Of A Dalit Party: Why is the BSP Not Able to Extend beyond UP?

Saturday 2 August 2014

by Sri Ram Pandeya

The BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) could not win any seat in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections. However, the BSP seems to have retained a lot of its vote-base in UP (Uttar Pradesh) as it polled around 20 per cent of the vote-share (even when the Modi wave had reduced any other factor in the voting pattern as redundant) but could not win any seat due to the communal polarisation in the first-past-the-post system.

Even when one of the national parties could achieve a majority on its own, the broader theoretical framework of this paper is that the national parties have consistently lost power and the State parties have grown in stature in the last seven general elections in India. While expectedly there is a spate of work on the Modi wave, this paper seeks to understand the election results from the perspective of a Dalit party as it also seeks to argue that the results of only one election (the just concluded one) cannot provide an overarching theoretical structure. The BSP is an interesting case study as technically it had been a national party besides the fact that it ideologically aspires to have a pan-Indian presence but till now it has formed as well as has had fair chances to form a government only in UP. While the BSP contested elections all over India on around 500 seats, I argue in this paper as to why its claim of going beyond UP is not to be taken seriously.

It is generally agreed within the scholarship of Indian politics that the 1989 general elections had brought in a major change in the Indian party system. It is argued that with V.P. Singh becoming the Prime Minister of India, the ‘Congress system’ had given way to coalitional politics. More broadly, it could be seen to be going towards a multi-party system, which is explained by the Constitution of India as a part of the democratic set-up. From another pers-pective, there was then to be a greater federali-sation as various States would see the regional parties to be either forming governments of their own or playing a very important role on a more pervasive scale.

This can also be understood through what is generally characterised as the 3 Ms—‘Mandal’, ‘Mandir’ and ‘Market’. The Indian electoral competition (in the 1990s) is seen as an interplay between the aforementioned three. The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a testimony to the ‘Mandir’ issue—the call for building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, demolishing the Babri Masjid. So, even if it was just apparent, the secular character of the Indian polity had been jolted, so much so that the Hindu nationalist party was able to lead a coalition government for six years—from 1998 to 2004.

The Congress can be seen to have set a more secular1 agenda as the party of economic reforms, what can be called the ‘Market’ strategy. However, the issue we want to address can emanate particularly from the third ‘M’—‘Mandal’—the commission working on reser-vations based on caste as the ascriptive identity of caste had attained considerable legitimacy in electoral mobilisation. With the Congress losing some ground, the politics in India would then (beginning from the 1990s) see identity as an immensely popular and useful tool of mobilisation. The more secular politics of issues had missed out in this process to the politics of identity.

Whereas caste symbolised hierarchy from a social and ritual perspective; when joined with democracy, caste identity can be an instrument of equalisation and dignity, as it is an easily mobilised social category. Such a mobilisation has brought in room for parties like the BSP, which mobilise on an ethnic2 basis (at least, when it began, it had a distinct ethnic agenda for mobilisation, which we shall come to in a while). We begin by taking this cue from Kanchan Chandra’s study of Hoshiarpur3—prior to the BSP’s emergence, the Congress was seen as the party of Dalits. So, what happened after the BSP came up? Was it successful in replacing the Congress as the party of Dalits?

Before we try to attempt to answer the above question, we need to understand that the Congress was a party of all groups and varied categories. Even if it would not lose any opportunity to mobilise on an ethnic basis, there was an inherent paradox to it. Can a party still be said to be mobilising on an ethnic basis if it tends to mobilise all ethnic categories? While the Congress’ mobilisation was inclu-sionary in nature and more subtly driven by an ethnic concern as it accommodated people from all categories, there was something distin-ctive about the BSP—its agenda was straight-forward—against the Brahmanic, Manuvadi structure of society. So, at least a beginning could be seen for the replacement of a ‘single multiethnic party with a collection of mono-ethnic parties’.4

The Congress called for Dalit support through ‘the distribution of patronage’5; invoking a pride in Dalit identity was not there in particular. The BSP, on the other hand, distinguished itself by pushing economic and material benefits as secondary issues; past humiliation was seen as a force which could bring the Dalits together. So, the BSP could be seen to have been bringing on a newer aspect in the way electoral politics was pursued in India.

So now, we take a look at the BSP and situate it in the context of this paper. It is important to understand who the support-bases of the party are, or we can say the ethnic bases, since we will examine the BSP from the purview of being an ethnic party. Kanshi Ram had called for a party of the ‘Bahujan Samaj’—meaning the community of majorities. According to Kanshi Ram, the support-bases of the BSP are all the people except the three caste Hindus—Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, who roughly consist of 15 per cent of the Indian population. So, the call from Kanshi Ram was to form a “rainbow coalition of minorities that collectively constitute a majority”: the rest 85 per cent—consisting of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) (16.3 per cent), Backward Castes (52 per cent ), Scheduled Tribes (eight per cent ), Muslims (11.7 per cent ), Christians (2.3 per cent) and Sikhs (two per cent). [Census of India 1991]6

Taking the above as a kind of a working definition of the BSP, we can now ask: After almost 30 years of its foundation, why does the BSP remain a party which has only been able to form a government in UP, and has never been a major player on its own on the national scene? What is it that prevents the BSP from leaving some impact of more consequence anywhere outside UP? Is there something specific in UP? What is the agenda of the BSP that suits more to UP? Why could not the Dalit party appeal to the pan-India Bahujans or to the SCs all over India, at least in the other States of north India?

We then go on to understand that the BSP is a party that primarily banks on the SCs for support as it is a product of the Dalit movement of Kanshi Ram. So, its success can be achieved first by translating at least the SC population is into votes. Taking into account Kanchan Chandra’s analysis, let us see whether the BSP has been able to achieve this. UP and Jammu and Kashmir (J and K) are the States where over 60 per cent of the SCs had voted for the BSP on an average over the three parlia-mentary elections in 1991, 1996 and 1998 (taking these three years as the period when the BSP was expanding on an ethnic basis).7

So, one of the factors that has led to the BSP’s success in UP is that the majority of the SC population there has been voting for the party. The same level of success cannot be achieved in J and K because the SC population there is 8.3 per cent, as compared to 21 per cent in UP. (Census of India, 1991) The same level of SC vote conversion could not be achieved by the BSP in any other north Indian State over the same three elections.Next comes 44 per cent in Punjab and only 21 per cent in Haryana as far as the SCs voting for the BSP is concerned. Even in the 2007 UP Assembly elections, when there was no ambiguity about the ‘Sarvajan’ agenda, the ‘BSP was the major victor in SC constituencies for it won 62 of the 89 reserved seats’.8

Now, we are beginning to form an answer to our central question—the BSP has its share of success in UP because the majority of the SC population have been voting for it. That brings us to the question: why do SCs in other States still stay with the Congress? Does the ‘patronage policy’ of the Congress still work? Or why is the BSP not able to sustain on its ethnic appeal in other States? We begin to answer this first of all by taking the case of south India. The politics in north and south India9 differ a lot, more so for the purposes of this paper. South India had seen the upsurge of caste-based politics well before. In the 1967 Madras Legislative Assembly, for an instance, the Dravida Munnetra Kazha-gam (DMK)-led coalition under the leadership of C. N. Annadurai won the elections defeating the Indian National Congress (Congress). More consciousness can be explained in view of the ever going caste atrocities in south India, especially in Tamil Nadu.

In the north, in fact, the caste system was more acute in the polluted tasks performed by the Dalits; in the south, the distinction ranged from the dress10 to all aspects of life. Thus mobilisation had happened in Maharashtra and the southern parts of the country right from the nineteenth century. As Sudha Pai puts it, ‘Unlike Southern and Western India, the Hindi heartland did not experience large scale anti-caste movements in the colonial period.’11 So, in the late twentieth century, for the BSP to make inroads in south India, with its organisational base in the north, was a little more than a distant dream. Even Kanshi Ram had indeed come to the north to form a movement and then the BSP in 1984. He was certainly being over-optimistic while remarking that the BSP will go on to form its organisation in the south.

As Kanchan Chandra explains with the example of Karnataka, the Congress had already made use of one of the strategies there that the BSP uses—giving position of power to the Dalits.12 Under pressure of losing power to the DMK in Tamil Nadu in 1967, the Congress in Karnataka in the 1970s had provided visibility to the Dalit voters of their own people in powerful posts. The Congress actually did not remain the same party in the south as it was in north India. Adaptation and innovation were indeed seen as reasons for the Congress’ success in the south (as pointed out by Myron Wiener in his 1967 study).13 The BSP thus faced the problem of representational blockage.

As Kanchan Chandra brings this out, the BSP’s success in a particular State (and not in others) can be ‘the existence of a representational blockage in the party system for the BSP’s ethnic categories and the extent to which the BSP is able to offer representation to those cate-gories within its own organisation’.14 According to Chandra, for an ethnic party to succeed it needs ethnic headcounts—larger than majority—and so, according to numbers, a capacity to win. Second, the particular alliance group should see adequate representation of their own ethnic group.15

Thus, drawing from Chandra, we can put forward this proposition—the BSP has not represented its various ethnic groups as well in other States as in UP. This problem of adequate represen-tation to all categories is not so much in UP as Chamars are large in number there, so much so that the BSP was sometimes referred to as ‘Chamar Party’. Mayawati herself is a Chamar from western UP. So, such kind of unity and homogeneity among an ethnic group gives the support-base of the BSP a virtually permanent character. Moreover, the Chamars in UP were economically well off, sometimes huge land-owners—hence easy to mobilise and also had resources for having perpetuated the movement as well as providing organisational cadre to the party. So, the Chamars (the largest support base of the party) were at least having some minimal condition to support a political campaign. How-ever, was this so distinctive about UP? We try to examine this by taking Punjab as a contrasting example. Taking the case of the State with the highest percentage of SC population (28.3 per cent, Census of India, 2001)—SCs in Punjab were also economically well-off to an extent. Then, why could not the BSP achieve much success there? The BSP was laid down by the All India Backward (SC, ST, and OBC) and Minority Communities Employees’ Federation (known as BAMCEF) in UP. They were able to get material benefits from the State and were thus well-off in a different sense—having some level of economic prosperity, yet not getting societal respect due to the absence of a move-ment in the pre-independence era. However, the major distinction between the two States was that Punjab had been a whole lot developed and SCs (like Chamars) had benefited a lot from British schemes like canal colonies, as it has been argued by Mark Jurgensmeyer.16 For instance, the Dalit labourers in Punjab would sometimes not cut the crop unless they were paid a minimum wage. So, the levels of humiliations faced by the SCs in Punjab were much less as compared to UP.

A province like UP is agricultural like Punjab. However, due to canal colonies (to begin with), agriculture in Punjab was better off. So, the signs of resistance and movements had emerged there early on.17 Moreover, in Punjab, in contrast, there was not a dominant Hindu population. They had a large number of SC Sikhs (Kanshi Ram was one of them), and before the partition, there was a significant Muslim population as well. Links can be drawn between the above factorsand the Brahmins not being as powerful in Punjab. Rather, they could be sometimes looked down upon for being landless and lazy.

Punjab and Haryana were dominated by Jats and sometimes even Dalits. Right from the establishment of canal colonies, castes like Khatris and Aroras had been successful traders. Moreover, Dalits in much less number did the polluting jobs; Adharmis and Ravidasis did not do them at all. Also, there has been a commercialisation of the jajmani system, benefiting the backward castes. Commerciali-sation of carcasses lifting work still involves the Dalits doing them, but they are getting well paid by private agencies, leading to partial economic empowerment, in some ways.

Coming to the electoral politics in Punjab, when seeking to expand, the Dalits (read the BSP) were a third force between the Congress and Akalis. Then, when the Akalis had formed a coalition with the BJP, the BSP—in tandem with the demands of electoral politics—had joined hands with the Congress. So, one of the reasons why the BSP has not been able to make inroads in Punjab—the party whose vote-bank the BSP sought to capture joining hands with them could not benefit the BSP.But, there were very few options the BSP was left with. Going ahead and seeking votes on the same basis as in UP was not a very viable option (as we have noted) as the level of humiliations differed a lot. Movements had begun in Punjab before as the Dalits had an economic base.

Kanshi Ram himself was from Ropar district of Punjab—a Ramdasia Sikh within the broad Chamar category—yet had not conceived Punjab fertile for a movement. The social aspect of Deras had formed a separate Dalit identity in Punjab. Right after independence, the Adharmis opened missions (which became Deras later on) and mobilised the Dalits. The Deras had spread the message of self-confidence and the Dalits had lived with greater dignity in Punjab. From canal colonies to Ravidasi Deras—all had changed Punjab considerably for the BSP to make as dramatic inroads in the State with the highest percentage of Dalit population as compared to UP.

So, the argument can be formed something like this—due to agriculturally better-off conditions, the Dalit labourers in Punjab had a tradition of resistance. Also, the Dalits in Punjab had got some respite due to the presence of Sikhism. They could thus have separate Gurudwaras, for instance. Hence, the level of humiliation was much less as compared to that in UP. Humi-liation is the agenda of the BSP, unlike the Congress which seek votes primarily on material benefits (as is also evident in the campaign by Rahul Gandhi this time—he promised jobs and other benefits for the youth etc. across ethnic groups). That brings us again to the difference between the Congress and BSP—the agenda of humiliation is central to the BSP’s politics and this worked the most in UP.

In north India, the Congress had maintained its hegemony right till the 1980s and 1990s until widespread mobilisation began to happen on the basis of a particular religion and various castes. What we want to pick from there is that when politics in India had required new dimensions (at least for electoral mobilisation), it was the Congress that was being challenged (as it was mobilising all ethnic groups). So, for any new party to make its space or electoral base it had to counter or eat the space Congress had occupied for decades. While the BJP would be the primary one to do that, we are concerned with the space being occupied by the BSP, and it could do so, with impact, only in UP; and that too by capturing the Dalit votes.

The point we want to draw from here is that the BSP got the Dalit votes which would otherwise go to the Congress; so, between the Congress and BSP—straight competition was there for the Dalit votes. If the Congress could consolidate its Dalit votes, there would not be any room for the BSP to creep in (as happened in Punjab, for instance). Although there is a rumonr of Dalits shifting to the BJP under the Modi wave—since that is still to be seen, let us take a look at how the Congress has been able to capitalise on its Dalit base in other States as compared to UP.

As elaborated by Chandra, as the individual motivation to vote for a particular party (for our purposes) ethnicity can be divided into two—materialist and social-psychological. While the former is a motivation in providing “benefits of modernity”—like land, jobs, markets, the latter “argues that individuals are motivated by a desire for greater self-esteem”.18 The Congress still thrives on giving material benefits and asks for votes on this basis. The BSP, on the other hand, seeks votes on ‘Dalit pride’ from its own people for their own party. It had evoked anger against the upper-caste atrocities. UP has always had a large number of atrocities against the Dalits. So, a party which invoked pride in the Dalit-Bahujan identity as its basis could become more successful in UP. The SCs (led by Chamars) who were (maybe) landed or otherwise well off (due to reservations) were angry on being discriminated in the daily social practices. Even though they would work in the same office on same posts, the Dalits would continue to be humiliated. This kind of situation perhaps existed more in UP and also distinguished the BSP’s strategy from the Congress. Thus, the BSP was getting votes which previously used to go to the Congress. So, the place where the Congress had been weakened, there was more room for the expansion of the BSPthat place was parti-cularly UP. The Dalit voters went to the BSP as it had a distinctive agenda of vowing to free them of the everyday humiliation they faced by constructing a unified Dalit-Bahujan identity. While this could be achieved in UP to some extent, there has not been a pan-Indian Dalit identity as such. So, how would the BSP respond to it?

Only on the basis of ‘Dalit pride’ an all- India advancement of the BSP looked difficult especially at a time when ‘the development agenda’ had become a major factor in the elections. That is why we can say that the BSP adopted the ‘Sarvajan policy’. So, would that prove beneficial? The policy of ‘Sarvajan’ was co-opting the ‘upper castes’ and trying to bind them all on a common plank of ‘development’. This is paradoxical as it is first a mammoth task of simultaneous development of the groups whose interests were previously portrayed as opposed to each other by the BSP. While the ‘Sarvajan’ would result in ‘upper-caste’ votes in it favour, it would also lead to a partial erosion of its social base, of the ‘Bahujans’. 

However, it also needs to be mentioned that such a shift was not chosen out of many options available. Globalisation has pushed the develop-ment agenda to the forefront. The people’s obsession with ‘good governance’, for example, has been unprecedented. So, identity politics can only lead to a limited electoral success for any party. This has worked in a negative manner for the BSP. The development agenda may be strong enough to win you a particular election, yet it deprives a party of ideology in a longer term. The BSP suffers from the same when it seeks to expand to other States now. All parties would be vowing for development. The BSP has been pressed to do the same and in the process the anti-upper caste swearing for the ‘Dalit identity’ has weakened, even if to a small extent. The uniqueness of the BSP has become less visible

The BSP has been a victim of this erosion of ideology. It certainly would not remain the radical party with the slogan—“Tilak, taraju aur talwar; isko maro joote char [The Tilak, the balance and the sword, hit them with your shoes”.19, 20 The era of ‘catch-all’ propelled the BSP to what Sudha Pai calls its ‘post-Bahujan phase’21 which is evident by the incorporation of slogans like “Hathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh hai [It (the BSP symbol) is not an elephant but Lord Ganesha, an incarnation of Hindu deities]”.So, the BSP is held in this paradox as it seeks to uphold its pro-Dalit identity, but wants to do without the anti-upper-caste plank attached to it.

A.K. Verma suggests another aspect to this dimension. In UP, the BSP had begun with the Dalit issue, got success and then took an inclusionary policy under ‘Sarvajan’. Now, it is not possible to do so in other States—what Verma calls ‘exclusionary policy based on social osmosis’ and ‘an about turn towards inclusive politics to develop a new social chemistry based on reverse social osmosis’.22This could happen as the BSP had a strong organisational structure in UP.

An ethnic party also needs a grassroots assertion, apart from appealing at the larger level. Symbolic politics has less probability of success unless there is a group of cadres working at the basic, local level. The BSP cadre working at the grassroots is very strong in UP. Such a situation is absent in other States. ‘The organisational structure is not known to be effective or strong in MP, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh.’23 So, the party does not get similar success in other States as in UP.

An organisational structure is efficient when there is a proper distribution of power. However, the BSP today is a little more than Mayawati. The BSP, from the time of Kanshi Ram himself, has been a leader-oriented party. Kanshi Ram was not known for listening to the dissenting voices and lending ears to various viewpoints; he was called the supremo of the party. Unity has been stressed to the point of ignoring the views of the common cadre. Mayawati’s stature in the last few years has been so large that sometimes she seems larger than the BSP. No substantial alternative leadership has emerged in the party. Mayawati essentially is a leader of UP. She has not had the same level of appeal in other States. So, it has been difficult for the BSP to register similar success in other States. ‘The BSP is still a one-person-centric party and terribly short of star campaigners.’24 Moreover, this leader-centric structure has not allowed the party to implement a democratic set-up within. While in UP, mobilisation had begun by the BAMSEF and Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4)25 cadres at the grassroots; elsewhere people might not be too keen to vote for a party with no internal democracy. While the BSP has had Dalit representation at various levels (satisfying a condition of Chandra for an ethnic party to succeed), it had happened more on the basis of appointments rather than elections—lacking something that Chandra called ‘compe-titive rules for intra party advancement’.26 The organisation of the BSP lessens this factor in UP, but not elsewhere.

To take a contrasting case, in Madhya Pradesh (MP) we see that the Congress enjoys Dalit support. There is not such a remarkable BSP leader in MP. The Congress, on the other hand, was ably led by Digvijay Singh and the Congress Government in 2002 was responsible in getting the Bhopal document drawn. ‘The policies and programmes for Dalits and tribals put forward in the Agenda (Bhopal Document) and their adoption by a Chief Minister sympathetic to the needs of the weaker sections and willing to undertake bold experiments, make MP an exception to the general trend of Dalit politics in the Hindi heartland.’27 Moreover, unlike the BSP, the Congress does not bank much on support on the basis of symbolism like Ambedkar statues, memorials etc.

Sudha Pai argued before the 2003 Assembly elections that it would be difficult for the BSP to expand within the two-party competition—between the Congress and BJP. Issues such as ‘reservation for non-Dalits and soft/hard Hindutva’ could only ‘reduce the role of the BSP to that of a spoiler’.28 The BSP is not ideologically entrenched to address issues like above and this is also one of the reasons that has deterred the BSP to register any considerable success in MP.

This point needs further elaboration as national politics has prevailed too much in States where there is still (even after 1989) a two-party competition. The Assembly elections are sometimes seen as more of a run-up to the general elections. Politics at the national level has become more bi-polar—between the Congress and BJP, the role of smaller parties has remained important only to the extent of supporting one of the bigger parties. Like, we were talking of a State like MP, the space for the BSP is difficult to be found in a bi-polar competition between the Congress and BJP. When the ethnic headcount is seen at the national level—it comes out to be too haphazard to be counted. A pan-Indian Bahujan identity is still not obvious for the people to decide whether their ethnic group is numerous enough to cross the threshold to form a majority. As the people are illusioned to see the Assembly elections as a fight between the two larger national level competitors, this comes out to be the case. The all-India battle between the Congress and BJP seems the most important one.

The space for parties like the BSP remains more of a spoiler in one of the two bigger parties getting a majority. The rhetoric of stability is also spread by the bigger parties and portrayed that this would lead to good governance, further narrowing the road for the BSP. Mayawati had even declared before the 2003 elections that her aim was to prevent any party to form a government in MP without BSP support. (Dainik Bhaskar, Hindi, Bhopal, 05/11/03) So, at best, the role of the BSP is reduced to a third force—such a case is not there in UP. There, the conditions are different—to begin with, there is a quadran-gular competition—between the BSP, SP, BJP and Congress. In the quadrangular competition in UP, the BSP’s politics has been notoriously remarkable for having been in alliances as means to get itself in power. In UP, it has had alliances with all the other three major players—the Congress, BJP and SP, at some point or another. The alliance with the ‘Manuvadi’ BJP (as Kanshi Ram had previously discarded them by calling the party by that term) came the third time in 2002 (in less than three years). Apart from alliances with political parties, the BSP also co-opted Brahmins and other ‘upper castes’ within it. Such a cooptation has been more successful in UP. Also, UP has 10 per cent Brahmins, 20 per cent Savarnas of the total population. So, an alliance with them produces at least a few more votes. Mayawati had called for Brahmin support calling them ‘exploited’ in UP before the then upcoming Assembly elections. (The Indian Express, New Delhi, 13/11/11)

Moving on now to take the case of Rajasthan, we can understand that though there is 17.3 per cent Dalit population there (Census of India, 1991), they are distributed unequally and the votes get dispersed and thus winning seats becomes a problem in the first-past-the-post system. Also, all Dalit votes do not get translated into BSP votes; the Congress continues to enjoy the support of the Dalits in Rajasthan as in many other States. On the other hand, since the Congress has weakened in UP, the BSP has emerged as the party of the Dalits there.

The same is not the case with Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and MP where the Congress captures a lot of Dalit votes through its politics of patronage. Similarly, Delhi falls into the category of States where the Congress enjoys a high level of support among the Dalits and Muslims.29 ‘Another important reason for the slow progress of the BSP is its inability to mobilise Dalits in an urban setting.’30 For the Dalits in Delhi, Pai suggests, economic issues like health, education, civic amenities would be more important as compared to a ‘Dalit identity.’31 Moreover, most Dalits in Delhi are migrants from other States, so mobilisation on the basis of a common identity becomes very difficult. The division between regions and on various sub-caste lines proves to be too strong.

That is not the case with UP. With Chamars (the most), Pasis and Jatavs, Dalits form a considerably united32 category as far as voting patterns are concerned. The BSP has been able to achieve this level of unity as they have a common agenda of humiliation as against the varying material benefits—in this way they could have scored ahead of the Congress. ‘By focusing on humiliation, the BSP renders economic conditions irrelevant, attempting to bring both the privileged and the less privileged Scheduled Castes on the same platform.’33 Such a condition has been most utilised by the BSP in UP. This brings us back to the primary argument we have been making—related to humiliation, uniqueness of UP and the difference of the BSP’s agenda as against that of the Congress. So, finally, we reach a point where it seems appropriate to sum up our argument and conclude.

Led by Kancha Illaiah,34 a group of optimists believed that the BSP would bring about large scale social transformations. But, that remained ‘unfinished’,35 to say the least. Unlike the Republican Party of India, while this Dalit party has made considerable headway, it is still far from becoming an all-India party. The BSP was distinct in asking for votes not on the basis of welfare, but its central issue was—invoking Dalit pride and getting votes against humiliation. This factor (of humiliation) was present more in UP as compared to Punjab or other States (summarising in a crude way). While capturing the Congress votes proved too much for the BSP (as was the case in Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP, Chhattisgarh etc.) in a two-party competition, the Congress in UP had weakened and there was scope for another party to creep in and more so when it was distinct for going beyond economic welfare for Dalits.

Swearing to restore dignity to Dalit identity with the BAMSEF cadre and a unified and strong Chamar base providing a better organi-sational structure for the BSP in UP than in other States, ‘Behen Ji’ (as Mayawati is affectio-nately called) could become the CM for the third time in 2007—this time the BSP had come to power all by a majority of its own. For the first time a Dalit woman had become the executive head of an Indian State—which has a symbolic power in itself. As a Dalit woman in an UP village had uttered—“...agar vo mukhyamantri ban sakti hai, to meri beti school ja sakti hai... [If she (Mayawati) can become CM, my daughter can go to school.]”36


1. Rather than characterising any party as secular or communal, my aim here is to term the economic agenda of the Congress as more secular as compared to asking for votes on the basis of religion or caste. It also does not mean that the Congress did not seek vote on such basis.

2. Kanchan Chandra characterises the BSP to be an ethnic party till the close of the 1990s. I shall be using the term ‘ethnic’ for the BSP as that is the path it began from, and that was the phase when the BSP started trying to expand to other States (outside UP). Whether the term ‘ethnic’ can be used in case for India is in itself a matter of debate, since that is not the main theme of argument here, I would take Chandra’s formulation as given; since even if we use the term caste party for the BSP, the structure of the argument remains the same. See Kanchan Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed (New York: Cambridge University, 2004).

3. Kanchan Chandra, ‘The Transformation of Ethnic Parties in India: The Decline of Congress and the Rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Hoshiarpur’ in The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 59, no. 1, pp. 26-61, 2000.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. See Dipankar Gupta and Yogesh Kumar, ‘When the Caste Calculus Fails: Analysing BSP’s Victory in UP’ in Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 42, no. 33, pp. 3388-3396, 2007.

9. While there is no distinct geographical division of ‘north’ and ‘south’ India, for the sake of discussion here, by ‘north’, I mean all the States north of Maharashtra in the west and north of Bengal in the east and also include MP; the rest are part of ‘south’.

10. Varshney discusses that the ‘Nadar’ women were not allowed to wear breast-cloth. The ‘upper castes’ of Kerala punished them for wearing the breast-cloth by attacking, stripping and beating. See Ashutosh Varshney. ‘Is India Becoming More Democratic?’ in The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 59, no. 1, pp. 3-25, 2000.

11. Sudha Pai, Developmental State and the Dalit Question (New Delhi: Routledge, 2010).

12. Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed.

13. Myron Wiener, PartyBuilding in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967).

14. Chandra, ‘Transformation of Ethnic Parties’.

15. Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed.

16. Mark Jurgensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision: The Movement against Untouchability in 20th Century Punjab (Berkeley: University of California, 1978).

17. Ibid.

18. Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed.

19. I have tried to give the best possible translations of the Hindi lines.

20. See Kanshi Ram. Asha Ki Kiran (in Hindi) (New Delhi: Bahujan Publications, 1992).

21. Sudha Pai, ‘BSP’s Prospects in the Assembly Elections’ in Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 38 no. 3, pp 3135-3138, 2003.

22. A.K. Verma, ‘Bahujan Samaj Party: Beyond Uttar Pradesh’ in Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 44 no.7, 19-22, 2009.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Even though the BSP was formed as a result of division of BAMSEF in 1984, BAMSEF and DS4 (which was actually a pre-cursor of BSP in many ways) continued to provide organisational cadre to the BSP.

26. Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed.

27. Pai, Developmental State and the Dalit Question.

28. Pai, ‘BSP’s Prospects in the Assembly Elections’.

29. See Yogendra Yadav, ‘Open Contest, Closed Options’. Seminar. Accessed at 7:40 pm on 28/09/11 from http://www.india-seminar.com/2004/534/534yogendra yadavv. htm. 2004. 

30. See Pai, ‘BSP’s Prospects in the Assembly Elections’.

31. Ibid.

32. It should be kept in mind that Dalits can only be said to be united as far as voting is concerned. I by no means want to suggest that they are a homogeneous category. Rather, they are variously divided on various sub-caste categories and so on.

33. Chandra, ‘Transformation of Ethnic Parties’.

34. Kancha Illaiah, ‘BSP and Caste as Ideology’ in Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 29, no. 12, pp. 668-669, 2004.

35. As Sudha Pai puts it. See Sudha Pai, Democratic Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution (New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, and London: Sage Publications, 2002).

36. This incident was narrated by Prof Sudha Pai.

Shri Ram Pandeya is an Assistant Professor, Ramjas College, University of Delhi. He is also a Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.