Despite loss, BSP’s politics of social justice is the only antidote to BJP’s communal agenda

By Sanjay Kumar for

The recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), one of the most populous states in India, has ushered in a tectonic shift in Indian politics. Many political parties, opposed to the Hindutva politics in India, expected UP to repeat Bihar. They did work hard to achieve a non-BJP government in UP, however miserably failed. However, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) emerged as the winner. In such a context looking at the major issues of the election campaign is pertinent. The dominant political parties in UP were the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi party (SP). While the BSP focused on the marginalised castes and religious communities and appealed for a Muslim-Dalit alliance, SP tried to create a front representing a larger umbrella of caste and religious identities. Two trends were different from the usual this time.

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The Samajwadi party, which was mostly successful in consolidating Muslim votes in the state hoped to take a step further by forging an alliance with the Congress party. BSP, on the other hand, was confident that the recent open endorsements by various Muslim personalities will increase its vote share further. The SP took a fresh approach in campaigning for its re-election by focusing on development, a strategy BJP has been following since 2014. Akhilesh Yadav frequently highlighted Lucknow- Agra Expressway and the upcoming Metro lines in Lucknow as his two major achievements. Furthermore, the emergence of Akhilesh as the leader of SP consolidated his position as a strong and popular leader within the party. But it also confused the non-Akhilesh SP camp.

Mayawati, on the other hand, stuck to her usual style of holding rallies and reading out a precise and pointed speech. Her focus remained on the increasing marginalisation and atrocities on Dalits and Muslims but appealed to other communities to support her in realising a ‘sarva-jan’ politics. The reality on the ground, however, was different. The ordinary voter in UP had heard these slogans before. The BJP also worked on the caste arithmetic but sustained a narrative that promised basic amenities and efficient delivery of essential services. Additionally, it focused on the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. With Yogi Adityanath, one of the most controversial and polarising figures, as the new Chief Minister of the state make few issues clear. BJP is utilising the figure of the Yogi as its latest mantra in UP. One, the ascetic figure of the Yogi could be projected as one who has little interest in the affairs of the world and more dedication towards Hindu dharma.

Secondly, Narendra Modi, keeping in mind 2019 would like to burden someone else with the Ram temple issue in Ayodhya taking the focus away from him. Also, an extremist figure like Yogi could facilitate in rehabilitating Modi as a comparatively moderate face of Hindutva. In contrast, the media reported election campaigns in a very asymmetric manner. It provided undue space to the Modi wave and pitched SP-Congress alliance against the BJP. What such an agenda driven reporting did was side-lined and obfuscated Mayawati’s political program. For instance, one Hindi newspaper, Dainik Jagran, published a controversial exit poll before the voting concluded violating Election Commissions code of conduct. The majority of the news channels left no stone unturned by turning primetime debates into spectacles of shouting and abuse. They also provided a certain spin to the BJP campaign by questioning identity politics and consolidating an opinion in favour of developmental politics. attention to Modi’s Varanasi visit during the last few phases of elections consolidated floating vote in favour of BJP. It focused less on the fact that BJP also consistently sustained its campaign by pursuing a caste arithmetic.

Narendra Modi in his address to his party at the party headquarters in Delhi asserted two visions. The vision of a young ‘New India’ and the eradication of caste differences in the interest of national progress. Both these visions are problematic. The vision for a ‘New India’ is based on the philosophy of development which is predominantly neoliberal in nature and the promise to facilitate the emergence of new class of workers who would take away the excessive burden away from the shoulders of the middle class is misleading. In a country where the majority of the population is below the poverty line and illiterate, these appear to be mere hollow promises. The arrival of a digital India might facilitate the emergence of communalism by enabling circulation of rumours on social media, but what it cannot achieve is social justice. What Modi’s perspective for a ‘New India’ does is trick marginalised communities and castes by way of a misrecognition. Modi aims to sanitise caste and religious difference in the garb of nationalism or patriotism. However, Charles Taylor has argued that what we sometimes ignore or reject as identity politics is aimed at getting recognition. This precisely is what the politics of organisations like BSP and SP precisely was. More importantly, BSP has consistently campaigned for dignity against humiliation and demanded a fair share, not in Modi’s ‘New India’ but institutions which control India and its future through schools, universities, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. In this light, what becomes important for organisations like BSP primarily is to reshape its image and rethink its strategy. First, Mayawati must start from scratch once again. She will have to place Kanshiram’s vision of ‘bahujan samaj’ at its core. Kanshiram contra Mayawati was an organic leader and intellectual. His strategy involved creating mass fronts conducting consistent grass-roots mobilisation, giving shape to the Dalit-Bahujan discourse from below not above.

The entire model of democratic participation was more inclusive as opposed to Mayawati’s top-down approach. Frequent grass-roots contact and mobilisation through various programs are essential in Indian politics. Mayawati must now re-strategise and focus on taking RSS-BJP head-on. First, she must focus on local-level organisation to counter RSS mobilisation, second, she must widen decision-making platforms within the party, and thirdly, she must facilitate the emergence of new more visible local community leaders from the Dalit-Bahujan. No doubt, BSP’s politics of self-dignity and social justice is the only antidote to the lethal mixture of BJP-RSS politics of communalism, vulgar nationalism, and neoliberal developmentalism.

The author is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, JNU.