Since the UP election results have been declared it is the time of the process for analysts to conjure up their readings of the situation. The elections results have been surprising as for the first time in 15 years, one party, the BSP has managed to win a majority on its own. The results are important for the 'social engineering' that the BSP attempted. BSP's election strategy brought together isolated, ignored upper castes and the Dalits. In this post, first a personal analysis is presented before a summary of two editorials and two opinion articles from The Hindu which examine the results. Subsequently a piece by Prof. Dipankar Gupta which appeared in The Times of India, 17 May is reproduced. The articles are arranged in a chronological manner and I choose to fully paste the Gupta piece for its thought provoking even if preposterous/brilliant/plausible (as it suits you) nature. I finally have a concluding note to the post.
The largest Indian province, Uttar Pradesh (UP), went to polls over the months of April and May to elect its state assembly. The politics in UP is polarised between three parties. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which draws its strength from the Dalits, the Samajwadi Party(SP) which remains the bulwark of the Backward Castes and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), the hindu right wing with a significant backward caste base and a urban upper caste muscle. The Backward Castes owing to their large numbers, the success of the Green Revolution and their political mobilisation in the 1980's-90's hold the key to power in the Indian democratic scenario. This is also possible due to the fact that the politics in India is disproportionately influenced by caste (With the current wane of the Hindu right, it would not be wrong to assert that religion was a weak link atleast when it came to the majority Hindus.) and therefore the significant politics is centered around various combinations (termed social engineering) of Upper Caste Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, Backward Castes. So far the combinations which have been tried were first all inclusive--->Muslims+Dalits+Backward Castes--->Muslims+Dalits. The weakening of the Congress came about with the rise of the Backward Castes and the formation of the Janta Dal. The Janta Dal's fall came about due to personal agenda's, lack of a coherent vision beyond opposition to the upper caste leadership of the Congress. The rise of Mayawati, the fire brand BSP leader saw the Dalit support fittering away from the Janta Dal. The SP can be said to be one of the important remanants of the Janta Dal and its support base lay among Backward Castes (largely Yadavs) and Muslims, the M-Y combination. The Congress in this Rahul Gandhi avatar remains a non entity. UP politics is important for India as it is the largest state (population wise) and therefore can have important repurcussions across North India and most importantly in New Delhi.
Political tour de force, Editorial, The Hindu, Tuesday, May 12, 2007
The editorial sums up the spectacular display of 'subaltern' power, "A Bahujan party with a core Dalit vote, it lacked the social skills and visibility of its opponents —a factor that seemed, paradoxically, to work to its advantage." It emphasizes the victory of the erstwhile powerless Dalits,"The feisty BSP supremo achieved for her party what Bhim Rao Ambedkar could only dream of and what her mentor Kanshi Ram envisioned but could not realise in his own life time." On the upper caste+Dalit combination the edit states that, "the BSP scored in an attempt to bridge the social divide: the party's emphasis through its campaign was on sarvajan samaj...[through]...a series of bhaichara (caste amity) campaigns....Brahmin jodo abhiyan (`take the Brahmins along' project)" while pointing out the traditional hostility between the Dalits and the Brahmins and therefore the sense of this socio-political achievement. The Edit also makes the point that the success has largely been owing to the BSP's superior ground work, better organisation as much as intelligent social vision and it also points out that BSP also secured a large share of OBC and Muslim votes.
Beyond winners and losers in U.P. by Harish Khare,The Hindu, May 12, 2007.
Khare first points to the breaking of the 'third front' dream and the fact that the BJP was denied power again which keeps the Congress government in Delhi safe. The article then emphasizes the 'efficacy... of single party government in this age of coalitions and fragmentation' pointing to the majority win for the BSP and extrapolates that the electorate is tired of the manipulation of coalition politics, rather uncalled for in my opinion. Points to, "the alchemy that Ms. Mayawati has managed to achieve through her social engineering.." The rest of the article concentrates on the UP electorate, "potentially the most receptive group of voters for the BJP brand of Hindutva politics, has firmly rejected....the [BJP's]...return to sectarianism...[and]...the Congress should have good reason to introspect how to re-align the family matrix with democratic ethos."
BJP sound effects and BSP silence by Vidya Subrahmaniam , The Hindu, Tuesday, May 15, 2007.
Examines the predictions of a hung assembly by exit polls. The exit and opinion polls had all uniformly and grossly underprojected the BSP while unfailingly overestimating the BJP. Like the other pieces repeates that the BSP was the only party with a solid base..."The consolidation of Ms. Mayawati's Dalit vote was spectacularly visible as was the success of the BSP's social engineering project...The BSP had arithmetic and chemistry working for it... Add to the party's enlarged Dalit base votes from other social groups, and the result was self-evident...In U.P., power was shifting lower and lower down the caste order — from the forward castes to OBCs and from OBCs to Dalits."
Difficulties of a fourth innings , Editorial, The Hindu, May 16, 2007.
The tools and skills-set required for an electoral battle are very different from those needed for governance. Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati refashioned strategy and made consequential changes in tactics to make tremendous gains in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Caste bloc building works for those in the opposition; but those in power must deliver on the promise of people-oriented development sooner than later. Identity politics will stop yielding returns when its votaries do not get the expected tangible benefits. Ms. Mayawati cannot hope to sell the politics of vendetta to all her supporters, many of whom are new converts and can move away as quickly as they came in. The Chief Minister must give up her capricious ways, and concentrate on development with a strong focus on employment. Otherwise, she will find it difficult to retain the tremendous goodwill she now enjoys and the sarv samaj slogan will lose its sheen. Governing well is even harder than winning elections.
Calling the OBC bluff by Dipankar Gupta (Professor of sociology at JNU), The Times of India, 17 May, 2007.
OBC politics was on the rampage. No political leader dare take them on for fear of ruining their well-laid-out garden parties, to which Mayawati was never really invited. She happily stayed out of this circle. She did not give high profile press interviews and her minions were not in TV studios at election time. Yet she was able to call the OBC bluff by keeping her feet on the ground and her ear close to rustic rumblings and urban disquiet.
In real terms, the mantra that propelled Mayawati's juggernaut was: “Long live Ambedkar and down with Mandal”. This instantly drew scheduled castes and 'forward castes' together from different ends of the traditional hierarchy. Ambedkarism appealed to the Dalits, and Mayawati's sotto voce distancing from Mandal pleased the upper castes. While everybody else was playing to the gallery of numbers, Mayawati sought out a caste chemistry that defied traditional logic. By getting the traditional upper castes and the SCs together she has done a lot more than just turn the ancient Congress pyramid upside down. True, Congress in the old days had Dalits and Muslims with it, but there were other interest groups too that claimed its attention. Peasant castes found refuge there, so did the business elite and some of the more infamous landlords.
In this scheme of things, SCs and Muslims were objects of benevolence. Whenever they faced atrocities Congress reminded them of its glorious secular tradition. They were then ushered to the anteroom to wait the disturbance out. Congress was indeed a giant political umbrella, but it was also all kinds of things to all kinds of people. The BSP has, on the other hand, clearly defined friends and enemies and this UP election was fought along these embattled lines. As long as the OBC party went on without objection, scores of political charlatans and opportunists swelled its ranks. Some members of the SC elite were also attracted to this gathering. They thought that this was the wave of the future and that Mandal would help secure their individual prospects as well.
Mayawati thought differently. She knew from experience that it was OBCs, and not Brahmins or Baniyas, who routinely brutalised rural Dalits. She abandoned her early catchwords and reached out to the 'forwards'. She could sense they were politically rudderless and racked by post-Mandal job anxieties. Therefore, by bringing the two together and taking advantage of rampant lawlessness in UP, which again is largely an OBC phenomenon, she rode to power in style. It was this deadly scissors movement, which combined 'forwards' and SCs that cut OBC supporters down to size. This lot had been fattened post-Mandal, pampered as they were by the Left and Right. But Mayawati contributed little to this OBC-led bonhomie. She was preoccupied elsewhere with the thought of bringing Dalit politics back to basics.
During her earlier brief terms as Chief Minister she made clear her adherence to Ambedkar. She erected hundreds of Ambedkar statues to remind her supporters where the original inspiration came from. Her brash political style gave her an edge over political rivals simply because she was unpredictable. But all this, put together, gave Dalits a sense of confidence. No longer did they see themselves as recipients of political philanthropy. Instead, Mayawati made them believe that they were actually driving a juggernaut.
Rural social mobility and the marginal-isation of agriculture have together made earlier agrarian relations unworkable. The old landlords are gone and the new ones, in the shape of OBCs, can plunder SCs but cannot give them jobs in their farms as their holdings are generally quite small. But because these OBCs are politically connected and better educated they can still terrorise rural SCs in a hundred petty ways. This forced Dalits to look beyond their squalid mud huts and that is when Mayawati stepped in. Like Ambedkar, Mayawati too does not glorify the village because she knows rural reality up close. But she sought an enduring ally in the 'forwards' and brought them under her tutelage. These 'upper castes' were more than happy to play second fiddle and oblige Mayawati's Ambedkarism. They had little to do with rural Dalits, and had been emasculated anyway first by land reforms (whose memory is distant) and more recently by Mandal.
My Concluding Note
Dipankar Gupta's article points to a united front of the Dalits+Upper Castes against what he hints is their common adversary: the Backward Castes. And in times like these, when the onslaught of the Backward Castes (for instance the OBC reservation issue) continues and all parties across the spectrum are held to ransom by the numerical advantage of the Backward castes, this Dalits+Upper Caste combination points to a potent challenge to the BC juggernaut till the Dalit support base moves up the food chain to become more demanding. The Vidya Subrahmaniam piece provides an argument regarding the devolution of political power down the caste hierarchy but does not provide any prognosis about the future course this devolution could take. It would be significant to keep in mind that the SP government also had the anti-incumbency factor working against it. So while it is unanimous opinion that organisational strength/coherence and social engineering are responsible for Mayawati's successes, only Prof. Gupta comes up with a thought provoking analysis regarding the common enemy. On a simpler note what are the chances of this Dalit+ Upper caste combination lasting the five year Assembly term. Does this combination forbear anything for the parties at the national stage or is it a one off and merely a temporary UP phenomenon?