The BSP's role

Print edition : November 05, 2004

"THE balance of power." That is how Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati described her party's role in the closely contested Maharashtra elections. But it seems like it lost balance and fell off the edge. The BSP fielded candidates in almost all (272 of 288) constituencies, but did not manage to win a single seat.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati.-VIVEK BENDRE

After the BSP foiled the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance's chances of victory in eight seats in the last Lok Sabha election, it was projected as the deciding factor in this Assembly election. Adding to the Congress-NCP alliance's fear was the fact that Mayawati's rallies attracted fairly large crowds. The media went to town, announcing the BSP as an emerging force in the State. The force is yet to emerge, but there is little doubt that the party has made a dent in Maharashtra's politics.

Its role is of a spoiler, not a winner. Owing to its capacity to erode the Congress-NCP's Dalit vote, the BJP was delighted with the entry of the BSP into the fray and even gave it underhand support. But the BSP's chances of winning seats were extremely dim. Overall, it got just 3.88 per cent of the vote, which though small, did prove decisive in the Vidharbha region, where it thwarted a Congress-NCP victory in 14 of the 66 constituencies.

The BSP's main strategy has been to poach on the votes of the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Ambedkarite party that is now in shambles after five splits. "Our aim is to end the votes of the RPI leaders," said Vilas Garud, president of the BSP's State wing. While the RPI has a base mainly among Buddhist Dalits, the BSP is trying to reach out to a wider social block - Dalits, Other Backward Classes, Muslims and even `upper' castes. Its supporters see the BSP as the only alternative to the Congress, the BJP and the RPI, which has failed to address their concerns. "The RPI has sold out. They are all dalals (agents) and chamchas (yes-men) of the Congress," said Ashok Bagade, a BSP worker at a rally in Nagpur.

Possibly the only place where the BSP had any presence was in Vidharbha. In the last Lok Sabha elections too, it ate into the Congress-NCP alliance's vote and spoiled its chances of victory in four of 11 seats. "We have met with a good response in Vidharbha because it has a high Buddhist Dalit population (23 per cent). It is also where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and the Dalit movement has been active here," said Uttamrao Sheowade, a BSP organiser in Nagpur.

Most BSP workers are attracted by its promise to replicate the `Uttar Pradesh model' in Maharashtra. "When I visited Lucknow, I saw the change," said Munna Shyamkumar, a tuition teacher in Nagpur. "Ten years back, no one would recognise Ambedkar, now you see him everywhere you turn. She [Mayawati] filled the backlog of Scheduled Caste reservations and distributed land to the landless. What has the RPI done? They sell all our dreams for one ticket."

While Maharashtra is yet to see further uplift of Dalits, what the BSP is trying to export here is the `U.P. model' of politics. The BSP has not bothered who got the party tickets, as long as the candidate belonged to the majority caste of that constituency and has the resources to fight. "We gave the ticket to market ke log (people of the market) - those who have some standing in the area and have the money to fight an election... . We hope that their votes combined with the BSP vote bank in every constituency will amount to victory. When we give a runner the ticket, they become a winner," said Sheowade. "We have chosen candidates according to the caste configuration of every constituency," says Garud. As a result, the ticket was given to 117 OBC candidates as compared to 93 Scheduled Caste candidates. The party also fielded 36 Muslims, 26 Scheduled Tribe candidates and four Brahmins. What are the issues the BSP is talking about? Nothing much, besides the end of `Manuwad' and promises to make Maharashtra like Uttar Pradesh In Vidharbha, it called for separate Statehood for the region and even christened it `Babasaheb Ambedkar Vidharbh Rajya'.

It may not yet be a decisive force in the State, but the BSP's growing cadre is a sign of change in Maharashtra's Dalit politics.

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