Friday, October 7, 2022

Dalit identity politics on the wane 

By Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

The Dalit identity politics which dominated the Uttar Pradesh, since Kanshi Ram came up with an exclusive Dalit centric party and named it BSP, seems to be on wane for the first time in  Uttar Pradesh if electioneering and electoral alliances of that is any indication. The rushing of regional as well as national parties to appease the Dalit identity political leaders, which was the norm for the last two decades, is not seen this time. The Dalit political leaders used to dictate terms earlier on the seat sharing. Such was the Dalit power in UP since 1993.

Surprisingly this time no party approached the leaders or parties which claim Dalit vote bank. Mayawati, the Dalit icon leader since early 90s, is all alone in the UP arena, with no party willing to do business with BSP. The breakaway Dalit leader and founder of Azad Samaj Party (ASP) Chandra Sekhar Azad is offered hardly two seats by Akhilesh Yadav. These actions confirm that Dalit identity politics are no more valued by other parties in UP. Both Mayawati and Azad talk about Dalit pride and self-respect but wouldn’t fight unitedly for the Dalit cause. By contesting separately may be those two leaders are self-weakening the Dalit identity political forces Kanshiram built.  Splintering their own bank wantonly by those two leaders is taken advantage by both BJP and SP, now the main contenders for power in UP. The reluctance of Mayawati to contest the election has further shrunk the image of Dalit identity politics in UP. For a leader of Mayawati’s stature, who was four time CM of UP and who lead the party to a victory on her own strength in 2007, it is certainly a fall. Even Azad who came as a young activist of Dalit rights with a new fighting image failed to garner the support from the schedule caste groups despite his tall claim of “around 50 small outfits are at our office now” for alliance and “are strong enough to compete in the polls and have a reach at village level”.

Why did the Dalit identity politics hit the bottom and where will it go from here and who is responsible for this situation needs to be addressed by the aspiring Dalit politicians who are outside the established parties. As things stand it will be either SP or BJP who will come to power in UP. If Akhilesh Yadav comes back to power it will be the reclaim of Mandal politics and the consequences of resurgent Yadav community at the village level, more so for Dalit, are well known. In case of continued Mandal class domination as it happened the Muslim-Yadav combination era of Mulayam Singh, the marginalized Dalit population will be forced to go back to BJP as the weakened BSP or ASP will be in a position to rescue them in villages. The Dalit leaders are failing to visualize the emerging scenario. If at all Dalit communities failed not only to ascertain themselves but are made to suffer, post-election results, the blame will lie with Mayawati, Azad and other Dalit leaders. It is almost a decade since the Dalit politics lost its sheen in UP and except Dalit leaders everyone noticed that. The decline in seats and vote share is gradual since 2012 loss. The washout in 2014 Lok Sabha and reduction to 19 seats in 2017 state assembly are warning signals. Despite some recovery in 2019 Lok Sabha elections the course correction was not taken to strengthen the party and that lead to the massive desertions from the party.

Dalit identity politics are at the cross roads because of the inherent weakness in that identity. Large section of Dalit has converted to Christianity and moved forward in social mobility with the education and employment partly through the funds of church and partly through the affirmative constitutional actions.  The urbanized Dalit groups have developed a monopoly on the opportunities and some communities which are early beneficiaries of the reservations has developed a firm grip on the jobs. The other communities which are left out of this beneficial schemes are marginalized. The dominance of Jatav community in BSP further alienated the non-Jatavs politically.

 Despite all the claims of Chandra Sekhar Azad of Bhim Army and Mayawati Dalit is not a monolithic and Dalit politics are built as personality centric without strong party organizational set up. Mayawati charisma was given much weight than the effective party structure. Though the Dalits are in considerable numbers there is no way that their own strength can give victory for the candidate in any constituency. Beyond the exclusively reserved constituencies for SCc there is no other constituency where a Dalit leader was projected by BSP in its over 3 decade old existence. Mayawati has not groomed second line leadership because of her insecure mentality. Loyalty to the leader is made paramount in BSP rather than the party ideology. So all leaders are forever on loyalty probation and even slightest deviation in that loyalty used to cost them position in the party.

Mayawati style of running the administration, whenever in CM chair, is whimsical. Intolerant to the suggestions, the coterie dominant, focus on money making through power was the image Mayawati got then. Her obsession to naming the places with Dalit icons, building parks with her electoral symbol Elephant in prominence and having her own statutes erected in vintage places received derisive criticism.  She not only got her own image rubbished but even that negativity was rubbed on to the Dalit communities. In the villages they were butt of jokes because of Mayawati.

This all culminated in the absence of ‘trumpet calls’ of Elephant in the UP elections and its mahout Mayawati became relatively silent. Her scathing accusation of anti-Dalit actions of Akhilesh Yadav as CM went unnoticed by the media and electorate. The Dalit groups are now trying to associate with any party which talks about their cause, thus scarifying the earlier identity politics. They are disappointed with their leaders and that is reflected even out side UP. The other Dalit leaders like Paswan, Athavale from Bihar and Maharashtra respectively are now with NDA. Punjab with high Dalit vote is now taken over by AAP. In Haryana the BJP is no more a force. The BSP legislatures in Rajasthan, M.P have joined the respective ruling parties.  From the image of first Dalit PM Candidate of Left backed third front in 2009, Mayawati has shrunk to irrelevance in UP. Emerging Dalit youth leader like Jignesh Mewani is no more active on the plank of Dalit identity political scene.

With this waning of identity politics of Dalit the politics are going to take different turn and early bird party who understand this psyche of Dalit group will gain political adventage.

(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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