Mayawati’s votebank doesn’t care about her Rajya Sabha seat
The politics of symbolism has its limitations.
By resigning from the Rajya Sabha on the burning issue of Dalit atrocities in Uttar Pradesh, BSP national president Mayawati can, at best, score a political point. But she cannot be sure how far it will help in the resurrection of the 33-year-old Bahujan Samaj Party that touched its lowest ebb in 2017; just like the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may not make any major gains from the election of a Dalit President.
The politics of symbolism and populism fails when it is not padded with concrete plans to fulfil the aspirations of the masses.Mayawati has failed on this count. Her slogan of ‘swabhimaan’ (self-dignity) started losing appeal when her politics moved from the ‘bahujan samaj’ to ‘sarvjan samaj’ before the 2007 UP assembly elections. She formed a majority government albeit at the cost of alienating Dalits, who could not accept the BSP’s new slogan – ‘Haathi nahi Ganesh hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai’ replacing ‘Tilak tarazu aur talwar, inko maaro joote chaar’ – as they continued to suffer appalling forms of discrimination.
The BSP met its first electoral setback in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as Mayawati, despite being the first Dalit woman chief minister of the state, could only raise the party’s tally from 19 to 21 seats.
It was the first wake-up call that she failed to respond to. From there on, the BSP kept losing election after election – assembly polls in 2012 and 2017; and Lok Sabha elections in 2014 . After all, political arithmetic depends on base votes, not borrowed ones.
Thus, while the country was weighing the pros and cons of her resignation, seen as a countermove to the BJP naming a Dalit for the post of president, her voters and supporters were watching the return of a pre-2007 firebrand Mayawati who never minced words in attacking her opponents.
It is a well-known fact that Dalits prefer ‘fighters’ as their leaders. Mayawati must have first sensed it while driving down to Saharanpur – the centre of caste clashes. As she diluted her social agenda, the restless Dalit youth had started moving towards little known leaders like Chandrashekhar of the Bheem Sena. In fact, between 2007 and 2017, hundreds of Dalit organisations have emerged in the country trying to fill the vacuum caused by a weakened BSP as it drifted from its Bahujan mission.
The BSP still remains their first choice as reflected in the election results. She lost seats but her vote share of about 20% has remained intact. Mere resignation will, however, not be enough.
Mayawati will now have to hit the streets as her mentor and founder president of the BSP Kanshi Ram did, irrespective of political gains and losses. He often used to say: “We contest first election to lose, second to defeat and the third to win”. As Mayawati rebuilds the party from the scratch, she will have to adopt Kanshi Ram’s style and social agenda to survive in UP politics.
Mayawati says she is working on a strategy. Dalits may ask for what? It’s mission or power? In this renewed political war, her membership of the Rajya Sabha is far too trivial an issue for her constituency.
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