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Mayawati's 'success' depends on how BSP taps new crop of young Amdekarite leaders

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

Whatever be the election results in Uttar Pradesh on March 10, it is extremely important to understand: that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its leader Mayawati have the potential to rise like a Phoenix any time.
Many experts have written political obituaries of BSP. They feel that Mayawati has become irrelevant. Many call her isolated, safe inside her home, adding, she can’t even speak a sentence or two and read her text even at press conferences.
These conclusions are made by persons who do not know the history of a movement begun by Kanshiram. Even if Mayawati, now 66, does not do anything, her life will remain inspiring, and one needs to understand that.
One cannot ignore how BSP became a party to be reckoned with, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. One has to only recall that she was the first candidate fielded by her party in 1984 elections from Kairana but lost. Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress swept the election under the massive sympathy wave in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Surely, it was impossible for an entirely new political party to perform.
Mayawati also lost in subsequent elections that she contested from Haridwar in 1987 and 1985 and 1991 from Bijnaur. Coincidentally, in 1985 Ram Vilas Paswan too contested from Bijnaur, as he had lost his Hazipur constituency and wanted to enter Parliament, but failed miserably. The Congress fielded Miera Kumar against them, and both lost. Paswan again tried in 1987 from Haridwar but lost.
The elections in Bijnaur and Haridwar reflected the politics of big leaders to use Dalits as their own votebank. If you go to these constituencies today, none will ever remember Miera Kumar or Ram Vilas Paswan. Today, both Bijnaur and Haridwar remain strong BSP bastions.
One cannot ignore the historical role played by BSP in defeating the Hindutva forces in Uttar Pradesh in the aftermath of the Babri demolition under Kalyan Singh. One may or may not like BSP or Mayawati, but none can ignore her strong grip over administration in benefitting her community when she was chief minister.
Mayawati has been a firebrand speaker. People wait to listen to her. She emerged from the Bahujan movement that did not succeed in one day. That was the time when while men were coming in large numbers to join Kanshiram’s movement, but there were not many women with him. It was a tough decision for a young woman to take a decision and remain completely loyal to her commitment.
Recently, we saw photographs of several savarana netas eating ‘food’ at the house of a ‘Dalit’ family, and tweeting as if they had done a great favour. Mayawati does not need to do so as people know her commitment towards her community. She is the only politician who has not used the Brahminical idioms and vocabulary to get votes.
She remains tall, one who did not pretend to go to a ‘temple’, ‘mosque’, ‘gurudwara’ or even a ‘dargah’ for the sake of pleasing ‘voters’. She has not pretended to ‘celebrate’ festivals, which netas and film stars have become so habitual of. She is the only leader who stands up with confidence and without any pretence.
She does not need to chant bhajans or chaupais from Ramayana to emphasize a point. As a woman, she did not use her identity of a woman to get votes. We saw her strength when she performed the last rites of late Kanshiram, and recently that of her mother.
But politics is changing fast. Youths are now joining in and their aspirations are high. Ambedkarite youths are now challenging the status quo in campuses. Good old days have gone when people would wait for hours in political rallies and listen to the songs all night. Now, youths want to use technology and need immediate responses.
Unlike BJP, and later the Congress, BSP lacks heavily on social media. Ambedkarite youths are raising issues and challenging the so-called mainstream narrative. A large number of youngsters have started their own youtube channels and all have followers in millions. BSP would need to tap this huge space to bounce back. It is a pan-Indian party with presence everywhere.
There is enormous goodwill for Mayawati everywhere among the Dalits. There are new young aspiring grassroots leaders who have emerged. Their energy is being utilised by other political parties. BSP needs to play pivotal role in bringing them under one umbrella in order to provide a credible challenge. BSP is backed with a historic Bahujan legacy, started by Kanshiram.
BSP’s core strength lies in Uttar Pradesh, and it is important that it is not allowed to be diluted. This is essential for a stronger, democratic India. BSP became a brand after lots of sacrifices, and therefore, rather than investing in hundreds of self-styled smaller groups, Ambedkarites could strengthen it.
...with Priyanka Gandhi
Of course, the duty of bringing these groups together rests on the BSP leadership, who know, creating a Bahujan alternative is difficult. Will Uttar Pradesh’s election results show in which direction the Bahujan politics would move? One has to wait and see.
Meanwhile, Priyanka Gandhi and the Congress deserve kudos for giving space to those who faced victimisation from state authorities. Elections are normally based on calculations to get votes, but this time, the Congress is experimenting, and if it succeeds, it will mean emergence of new contours on the political scene.
It has given over 40% tickets to women and youth. Equally important is the substantial number of seats allocated to Dalits and Muslims in various constituencies. If all these new entrants stick to the Congress ideology despite defeats, the future of the party is bright.
There are some inspiring names like Ramraj Singh Gond, who has fought for adivasi rights in Sonbhadra, Asha Singh, mother of Unnao rape victim, who faced torture and oppression, and Shamina Shafiq, who is contesting from Sitapur. The positive side of the story is, civil society and activists have found space in the Congress.
However, one should not discount BSP. It is a party which came from the historic movement begun by Kanshiram. Of course, right now, all eyes are on Akhilesh Yadav, and he is moving with great strength. His recent aggressive stance on the so-called mainstream media won many a heart.
But Akhilesh must remember that the issue of Uttar Pradesh elections are about systematic marginalisation of Dalits, OBCs and minorities. Bahujan groups are seeking his response. He would do well not to deny importance of social justice in his campaign. He must promise agrarian reforms, better education and healthcare facilities, and state that big highways will not become a tool to loot people.
Uttar Pradesh elections will prove whether Mandal is more powerful than Kamandal. The forces of social justice need to join hands, come together and defeat those who use religion to suppress people and maintain caste hegemony.
---
*Human rights defender. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat. Twitter: @freetohumanity

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