UP election 2017: Behind BSP’s quiet confidence, a tale of political exclusion of Dalits

Here’s one certitude about electoral politics in Uttar Pradesh: Dalits won’t ever waver in their support to the Bahujan Samaj Party. With a solid vote bank behind it, the party only needs to get the ‘plus’ factor right to emerge victorious in any election. The plus could be in the form of Muslims or upper castes or both. This is what anyone in the state with an even passing interest in elections would tell you.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. PTI

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. PTI

This is a formidable fortress all parties have been trying to breach without success. Rahul Gandhi’s famous visits to Dalit houses have not endeared the Congress to the community. The BJP’s desperate effort to build bridges with it has come to a cropper. Remember party president Amit Shah taking the holy dip — samrasta snan — with Dalits at the Simhasta Mahakumbh in Ujjain last year? Or his meal at a Dalit home in a Varanasi village? Or his party’s effort to appropriate Babasaheb Ambedkar’s legacy? Now, both parties have given up.

“They simply don’t get it. Such attempts hurt Dalits and alienate them from these parties even more,” says Baleram, who is introduced to one as a Dalit thinker. “What exactly are the parties trying to prove with this patronising attitude? Dalits want respect, to be treated as equals with others up in the social ladder. The visit of such people to their homes only highlights their inferiority. These leaders are reinforcing the social distance between castes, not bridging any gap,” he adds.

The message such acts convey to the target audience is certainly in poor taste, insulting even. Speak to any informed supporter of the BSP and this is the understanding you get. For them voting for the BSP is much more than a political choice. It is a question of their self-respect.

“The middle castes such as Yadavs and Jats have excluded us from their social agenda, so is the case with higher castes which have an affiliation to other parties. Where does that leave us? In our voting behaviour we are exactly like the Muslims. The sense of victimisation is similar to both; the existential situation is not far different. But we have a party to vote for,” he says.

Is the Dalit vote bank as impenetrable as he would like to believe? Ask him why those in the lowest rungs among Dalits such as Balmikis and Pasis prefer to vote for the BJP, he admits it’s a failure of leadership. Asked why a section of the community voted for the BJP in 2014 elections, he says it was an aberration. “Whoever we support or whichever is the party in power, our position in the social graph remains unchanged,” he adds with a sense of bitterness.

Taking off from what he mentioned earlier, Dalits and Muslims should be natural allies in Uttar Pradesh. The latter could be the stable plus factor, making the Dalit-Muslim combination an unbeatable proposition. However, while both share the same dislike for the BJP, the Muslims trust the Samajwadi Party more.

Satish Prakash, a Dalit activist, admits that winning over the Muslims in this election is a challenge, particularly after the SP-Congress alliance which aims pointedly at the non-division of the community’s votes. “The BSP has been faster off the block. It selected its candidates for Muslim-dominated seats much earlier. With 97 Muslim candidates, it has sent the right message to the community. It has been particularly careful about western UP. A division of their votes is going to help the BJP.”

He says the voting trend in western Uttar Pradesh will have a ripple effect across the state. So the party is sparing no effort. “Earlier the call from the party was ‘one booth, one youth’; in the previous assembly election it was ‘one booth, 20 youth,’ this time it is ‘one booth, 50 youth’. It means the number of voters each young man would bring to polling booths. We know the mainstream media will never acknowledge the BSP as a political force, but the sense of good performance spread through social media in the first phase will certainly set the trend for the rest of the state,” he adds.

Asked to explain the quiet confidence exuded by the party, another Dalit activist Sanjay Kumar elaborates: “In the last assembly election, we lost a majority of seats with narrow margins. The vote gap was as low as 500 or less in 48 seats. In around 200 seats it was 3000 or less. Proper mobilisation of party cadre this time can easily bridge the gap. You must remember, the BSP is the major contestant in 350 seats.”

The party is certain about Dalits backing it, come what may. Both echo Baleram's words: the politics of exclusion practiced by other parties leaves no other option.

The fortress would stay intact.

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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2017 21:57:05 IST

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