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The victory of caste arithmetic
May 11, 2007
I guess not. The new one is 'Brahmin shankh bajaayegaa, Haathi chaltaa jaayega!"
Both battle-cries were raised by the Bahujan Samaj Party at different points in its career. They mark the evolution of the party from confrontation with Brahmins (Tilak), Vaishyas (Taraazu), and Kshatriyas (Talwaar) to one of gradual accommodation.
That confrontation was always a bit artificial in the context of Uttar Pradesh. Anyone who goes down to the grassroots finds that the Dalits' real battle was not with the upper castes as much as with the 'Other Backward Castes'.
This is a point that was grasped very early on by the late Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party. (We were friends for decades, going back to a time when the Bahujan Samaj Party had not yet been founded.) And he discussed his long-term plans with me a couple of times.
Kanshi Ram put it very simply. The landless labourer, he said, would never be accepted as a partner in power by the middle castes, the OBCs, that had come to the forefront as the owners of the land. The Dalits could not come to power on their own, no matter that they constituted roughly 25 per cent of the population. It thus made sense to join
hands with the Brahmins, using that term as a shorthand for all those at the very top of the caste hierarchy.
Mayawati's antipathy for Mulayam Singh Yadav is famous, but it would not matter even if the latter were one of the former's rakhi brothers. The bedrock of the Samajwadi Party is the Yadav sub-caste, the dominant OBC group in Uttar Pradesh. The natural constituencies of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were always going to clash.
Kanshi Ram's plans called for forging the Dalits into a coherent formation as a first step. Once the Bahujan Samaj Party was certain of its Dalit votebank, it was time for the second step, namely the alliance with the upper castes.
But the Bahujan Samaj Party needed time to overcome the suspicion of the upper castes. Everyone talks about Mayawati's strategy in being liberal in handing out party tickets to Brahmin candidates in this Vidhan Sabha election. It is, however, not the first time that she has done so. She was generous with Brahmin and Thakur (Kshatriya) candidates even in 2002, in the last polls.
The Bahujan Samaj Party did very well the last time too. As I recall, 17 of the roughly 130 Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs were Brahmins. Several Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs were lured away to support Mulayam Singh Yadav in controversial circumstances. It did not escape Mayawati's attention that 16 of those 17 Brahmin MLAs stood true to her.
In 2007 the Bahujan Samaj Party leader went all out to woo the 'Savarna'. The time was propitious, given the upper castes' own disenchantment with their own traditional parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BJP should have grasped the significance of the fact that Mayawati's Brahmin MLAs preferred to stand by her when Mulayam Singh Yadav set about splitting the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Instead, his path was smoothed by Kesri Nath Tripathi, the BJP leader who was then speaker of the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. His controversial decision to treat defections as a continuing process rather than a one-time act subsequently drew the censure of the Supreme Court itself.
There is a certain amount of tension between the upper castes and the OBCs, which support the Samajwadi Party. So, where could an upper caste voter turn given that the mood of the day was to turn out Mulayam Singh Yadav?
T V R Shenoy