Why Mayawati's BSP Doesn't Do Pre-Poll Alliances

17/06/2016 10:01 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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India's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati smiles as she addresses journalists at a press conference in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is likely to soon question the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state and BSP chief in connection with alleged swindling of funds running into millions of US dollars in the implementation of National Rural Health Mission under her watch. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

There’s been wide-spread speculation of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh entering into a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. The speculation became serious after the BSP gave support to the Congress in Uttarakhand. Even earlier, after the Bihar assembly election results in November last year, there was a lot of talk about a possible ‘Grand Alliance’ in Uttar Pradesh, just like Bihar.

The idea of a Grand Alliance is to keep the BJP out, but even the BJP wouldn’t mind a pre-poll alliance with Mayawati. Speculation of pre-poll alliance with the Dalit-led party has included the Jat-led Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Muslim-led AIMIM.

Politics is the art of the possible. Facing anti-incumbency, a desperate Samajwadi Party also made overtures to Mayawati.

The idea of a Grand Alliance is to keep the BJP out, but even the BJP wouldn’t mind a pre-poll alliance with Mayawati.

Speculation of a pre-poll alliance with Mayawati is always rife before every election in Uttar Pradesh, both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha, but such speculation does not understand the BSP’s politics or history.

The only time the BSP entered into a pre-poll alliance was in 1993, with the Samajwadi Party. The BSP had played a junior partner, contesting 164 of 420 odd seats.

That alliance was formed in the post-Babri demolition mood where parties wanted to come together to keep out the Kalyan Singh-led BJP. For BSP founder Kanshi Ram, it was an experiment in trying to uniting Dalits, Muslims and OBCs – basically everybody other than the Hindu upper castes who form a core vote-bank of the BJP.

The experiment didn’t last long, and ended bitterly, both because of the ideological differences between the two parties, and the reality of the contestation between Dalits and OBCs for power and privilege in UP’s towns and villages.

People’s mindset hasn’t changed, she said, hinting that non-Dalit voters of other parties don’t easily vote for a Dalit-led party.

After giving support to the Congress in Uttarakhand recently, Mayawati made it clear she had no intentions of a pre-poll alliance with anybody. She clarified that while the BSP vote (read Dalits) was transferable, votes of other parties didn’t transfer well to the BSP. “People’s mindset hasn’t changed,” she said, hinting that non-Dalit voters of other parties don’t easily vote for a Dalit-led party.

mayawati

(Mayawati displays her voter identity card and ink-marked finger after casting vote outside a polling station during the fourth phase of the state assembly elections, in Lucknow February 19, 2012. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar)

Despite Mayawati’s denials, speculation of pre-poll alliances with the BSP continues because the BSP is seen, for good reason, a power hungry party that will do anything to come to power. Except that the BSP behaves this way only after elections, because elections are sacred.

This goes back to the founding of the party by Kanshi Ram, who observed and agonized over the state of Dalit politics. In Pune, he had closely observed the Republican Party of India, which had been founded by BR Ambedkar himself. Ambedkar had passed away soon after forming the party, and the party collapsed bit by bit in factions. Key to its collapse was doing pre-poll alliances with the Congress, as a result of which the RPI was reduced to becoming a tokenistic overture for Congress to win Dalit votes.

In Maywati’s speeches as much as in the training workshops of BSP’s Dalit workers, the betrayal of Ambedkar at the hands of the Congress is a big issue even today.

In Maywati’s speeches as much as in the training workshops of BSP’s Dalit workers, the betrayal of Ambedkar at the hands of the Congress is a big issue even today.

Another reason why the BSP doesn’t like pre-poll alliances is that it views elections differently from other parties. Kanshi Ram famously said the BSP’s strategy was to contest the first election to lose, the second one to cut votes and make someone else lose, and the third to win. In a pre-poll alliance, a party simply does not contest many seats, affecting the morale of its workers in those constituencies, and weakening the party organisation.

The BSP’s power-hungry image is true, but it is also ideological. The BSP believes that Dalit empowerment can only happen if a Dalit-led party comes to power. Power is the key that opens the lock of empowerment. Ever election in every constituency is thus an opportunity to politically mobilise Dalits towards the BSP’s ideology. This is part of why, even in the worst of times, the BSP retains the bulk of the Dalit vote in Uttar Pradesh.

mayawati

(A supporter holds a cutout of the Indian parliament with an image of Mayawati, chief of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), during a rally addressed by Mayawati in Lucknow January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar)

This is what Mayawati meant when she said, after supporting the Congress in Uttarakhand, "Contesting the elections and supporting a party to form the government are two different issues. The BSP is not only a political party, it's a movement. And our idea behind this movement is to walk on the lines of B.R. Ambedkar, who struggled to bring equality in all section of the society and political power is very important for ensuring the implementation of such ideology."

The BSP’s use of elections as ideological mobilisation of Dalits is also the reason why it contests as many seats as possible across India, in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections, with little hope of winning more than an odd seat.

Mayawati further explained after Uttarakhand, "We don't believe in alliance for the sake of elections, when my party did not ally with any other political outfit in the states where the BSP strength is weak then no question arises that we will ally with any party in our strong region. The BSP will not ally with anybody for the upcoming elections in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, we will fight the polls alone."

It might make electoral sense for the BSP to get into pre-poll alliance in all those states, but contrary to perception, winning seats is not the only thing the BSP is after.

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