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Maya and Dalits in Uttar Pradesh

While Mayawati is, all the way, a winner, the dalits have been the certain losers. The M?y? (illusion) of political power as the master key for their emancipation has proved to be a chimera.


political power in a dalit’s hand can make

MƗyƗ and Dalits in Uttar Pradesh

the state look different from others. Never before had a dalit been at the helm of a state. Many dalits had become chief min-Anand Teltumbde isters before but only as dalit mascots of

While Mayawati is, all the way, a winner, the dalits have been the certain losers. The MƗyƗ (illusion) of political power as the master key for their emancipation has proved to be a chimera.

Anand Teltumbde ( is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

ne of the adverse results of the recent assembly elections in fi ve states is the big reversal suffered by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Just five years ago Mayawati had stunned everyone by winning 206 seats in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Assembly, well past the majority mark. In the hopelessly fragmented politics of the state, which had not seen the single party majority since 1993, this was a veritable feat that escaped all predictions of the poll- pundits. As a matter of fact, no one has ever predicted BSP’s rise in UP at any point in time. It always came as a bitter surprise in elite circles in which such games are played. The year 2007 was moreover the test of Mayawati’s big gamble on her sarvajan strategy abandoning the bahujan scheme that had catapulted this daughter of an ordinary dalit to the chief minister’s office in the country’s largest state, not once, but three times.

The process of cultivating the bahujan with slogans like “tilak, taraju, aur talwar; inako maro jute char” or abusively asking the upper caste members to leave election meetings right at the beginning, was not yet completely forgotten. Nor were the promises made to dalits that all their problems would be solved with the master key of political power. People were sceptical about the sarvajan strategy. Would this grand design really bring upper caste votes into the BSP kitty in face of the palpable danger of alienating some of the Jatav/ Chamars, who constituted her core constituency? The latter, and indeed all bahujans, stood by her, rock-like, and won her unencumbered power. But what has happened this time around? The upward trend in the vote share – 11.12% of the vote in 1993, 19.64% in 1996, 23.06% in 2002 and 30.43% in 2007 – for the BSP, right since its foray into electoral politics in UP has been reversed (25.91% in 2012).

The electoral victory in 2007 really offered Mayawati an unprecedented historical opportunity to demonstrate how

april 21, 2012

the ruling-class parties. The rise of the BSP, aggressively projecting itself as a party of the majority (85%) against the traditional ruling classes, albeit on a caste count, was inspiring enough to common dalit folks, particularly in the context of the collapse of the Republican Party’s (RPI) experiment. Mayawati’s previous stints were brief, the first in 1995, the second in 1997, both of less than six months each, the third lasting a little longer, about 16 months. But all these stints in power required support from others and could not therefore be expected to make much of a mark. They were used to fortify her constituency. As she had declared during her first stint, “consolidation of the dalit vote bank” was her “biggest achievement” (The Pioneer, 23 October 1995). Renaming public institutions and places after bahujan icons, particularly B R Ambedkar, erecting their statues across the state, creating new districts after them, all these moves worked well to impose a dalit presence all over the public space.

Some of the schemes she launched signifi cantly benefited dalits. For example, the Ambedkar Village Scheme (AVS) she launched during her very first stint allotted special funds for socio-economic development to villages which had a 50% scheduled caste (SC) population. In June 1995, during her second stint, she extended this scheme to villages which had a 22-30% SC population. All told, 25,434 villages were included in the AVS. The dalits of these villages received special treatment – roads, handpumps, houses, etc, were built in their neighbourhoods. It is due to these material benefits that dalits enthusiastically called her government as their own. People were generally untroubled with her autocratic style of governance as it meant a decisive response and improved law and order. Unfortunately, the imperatives of power misled her to commit excesses in fortifying her core constituency with huge investments in building Ambedkar and Kanshiram (and

vol xlviI no 16

Economic & Political Weekly


even her own) memorials and organising gala birthday bashes.

Surely, she could have used her administrative prowess to curb atrocities on dalits with a heavy hand; she could have improved basic public services such as education, health, and transport, made her administration people-friendly and possibly tried to create village fora that would lead to a weakening of caste-identity. Instead, she adopted an ultra-feudal model with all regal pomp and darbari culture, distancing herself from the masses, distributing grants to those who were loyal to her and extracting rents from others in exchange for political favours. In a country where corruption is a way of life, she earned the dubious epithet of being the most corrupt. While these traits could be considered as stemming from the political compulsions of her earlier stints, her fourth stint in offi ce confirmed that these attributes were of her own making.

Marsh of Electoral Politics

While Mayawati could surely have empowered the people, the real question is whether she would then have survived in mainstream politics. Do people really matter in our so-called democracy? They do figure once in five years at the polling booths to decide who would govern them. But such appearance is the reality of intricate broking networks of castes and communities and huge upfront competitive investments to keep them oiled. These upfront monies come from the moneybags, and these days, even from candidates who literally buy their candidatures. An idea of the magnitude of the return on these investments can be had from the asset declarations of the candidates who contested two consecutive elections. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Uttar Pradesh Election Watch (UPEW) revealed that the average individual assets of the 285 re-contesting MLAs for the 2012 UP assembly elections increased from Rs 1.21 crore (2007) to Rs 3.56 crore (2012), registering a growth of 194%. And these are just the average asset values! Paradoxically, as these returns soared over the years, the voice of people, the metric of democracy, has suffered contraction.

Could Mayawati escape this inexorable logic of mainstream politics? The answer is certainly no. As the facts reveal, she has not just played the game, she has, by far, outdone her competitors. Her party had the maximum number of candidates who re-contested the elections (120) whose assets grew by a whopping 226% – from an average of Rs 1.22 crore in 2007 to an average of Rs 3.97 crore in 2012. The average BSP legislator seeking re-election has exceeded her/his counterpart in the pacesetter Congress (27) by 244%, RLD (6) by 421%, Qaumi Ekta Dal (2) by 343%, and Ittehad-E-Millat Council (1) by 523%, but they are relatively insignificant in terms of the numbers involved as indicated in the respective brackets against each of these parties. In the top 10 recontesting candidates ranked by quantum growth in assets, BSP tops the list – its candidate from Allahabad, Nand Gopal enhanced his wealth by Rs 79 crore. BSP dominates the list of the top 10 with fi ve candidates compared to the Congress’ two and Samajwadi Party’s one.

Money and criminality are not essentially disconnected. But insofar as the latter as measured in terms of the number of registered criminal cases goes, it is dependent upon which political party is in power. Since BSP was in power, the criminality of SP, its arch rival, may be amplified and that of BSP dampened. Notwithstanding this fact, the ADR/UPEW data reveals that the BSP is not far behind in terms of putting up candidates with criminal charges. The SP had the maximum of 199 out of 401, i e, 50% candidates with live criminal cases against them. The BJP, the self-proclaimed “party with a difference” stood next highest with 144 out of 397 (36%) and the Congress came third with 120 out of 354 (34%). The BSP stood fourth with 131 out of 403 (33%) in terms of candidates with pending criminal cases. Look at the BSP from any other angle: it appears no different from any other ruling class party, fully sucked into the foul marsh of electoral politics.

Illusion and Option

The immediate comment Mayawati made about the election result was that her core constituency of dalits is still intact and that she will come back to power in 2017. It is a typical statement that Indian politicians make. What makes them so confident? Their confi dence actually stems from the great electoral system we have adopted to actualise our constitutional vision of giving ourselves a “sovereign, democratic, socialist, secular republic”. The first-past-the-post type of electoral system cements the hope of any party with a solid backing of as less as 10% to 12% of the vote, which practically could be ensured by caste and/or community allegiance. It means that one could rule with the consent of just 10% of the vote. Look at the paradoxes of this system. The Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab got 56 seats this time with 34.75% of the vote as against Congress’ 46 seats with 40.11% vote. BSP’s share of the vote in UP declined by only 4.52% but this costs it 126 seats, i e, 31.04% of the total number of seats.

Mayawati will now go to Rajya Sabha and after five years, helped by the allpervasive “anti-incumbency factor”, and a little fine-tuning of caste calculations, will regain her throne in Lucknow. But what about the dalits, particularly the Jatavs/Chamar who are her core constituency? They do not have any other option but to cling to her as they did. Contrary to the inference of some of the analysts based on the loss of reserved seats by the BSP that dalits deserted Mayawati, it appears that the core of the BSP’s support base, as Mayawati claimed, is largely intact. It is true that the BSP lost a number of the reserved seats – from 62 out of 89 in 2007 the party got just 16 out of 85 in 2012. But since reserved seats are not won or lost only on dalit votes, it would be erroneous to correlate them with dalit support or desertion. The dalits, her core constituency, will continue to support her as long as they see hope in the BSP winning power, lest they get beaten up at the hands of SP goons in the villages as is happening currently in UP.

While Mayawati is, all the way, a winner, the dalits in this game have been the certain losers. The illusion of political power as the master key for their emancipation has proved to be a chimera. They better realise that their real emancipation lies in radical change of the system and not in being the playthings of someone within it.

Economic & Political Weekly

april 21, 2012 vol xlviI no 16

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