Uttar Pradesh’s Assembly elections always become the talk of the town due to the old proverb “the road to Delhi goes through Lucknow” (to seize power at the Union, one must win Uttar Pradesh). As the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are a few months away, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has started rolling its sleeves, but the Opposition, fractured and disarrayed, seems discombobulated regarding what strategy it should adopt. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose parliamentary constituency Varanasi lies in the state, has high stakes in these elections as it will also determine the BJP’s fate in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections–if there is one. Thus, the Opposition will not have a cakewalk in 2022, as they are expecting.
Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was earlier known as a party of the ostracised Dalits and other oppressed castes, along with a section of the minority Muslims. However, Mayawati is affording to shed that façade of Bahujan (oppressed majority) politics with insouciance to appease the dominant upper-caste Hindus. This volte-face is caused by the realpolitik of Uttar Pradesh, as the BJP has successfully polarised the Hindu community, including the Dalits and the backward classes (OBCs), into a singular vote bank.
Survival is essential for Mayawati, whose party once won 206 out of the 403 seats, 30% of total votes, in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 2007 and formed a stable government. She is trying hard to be a relevant political entity in the state that she ruled and from where she dreamt of seizing New Delhi’s top seat. In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the BSP’s tally fell to 80 seats and 25.9% of votes. In the 2017 polls, her party got only 19 seats, while retaining a 22.23% vote share.
Out of sheer compulsion, she even joined hands with her bete noire, the Samajwadi Party (SP) for the 2019 Lok Sabha (general) elections, as the BSP won no seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. While her party had won 21 seats out of 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, with the support of the SP and the Congress party, she could manage to get only ten seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Still, Mayawati wants to go solo in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, knowing well that her credibility among the non-Jatav Dalits has eroded severely in the last many years and she can’t manage to single-handedly defeat the BJP’s Hindutva fascist juggernaut. This is a reason that Mayawati is now keen to woo the Brahmins, whom she managed to wean away from the Congress and the BJP during the 2007 elections. She is hoping that her unique social engineering will pay rich dividends and she can either checkmate the BJP or force it to conclude a deal with her in the event of a hung assembly.
To hold out the olive branch to the Brahmins, whom she addresses as “enlightened” or Prabuddha, Mayawati is organising “Vichar Sangosthi” (symposium) throughout the state. Scrapping the quintessential Ambedkarite Dalit politics, Mayawati has embraced a softer version of Hindutva fascism, which is Brahminical fascism in essence, during these Vichar Sangosthis. Thus, Hindutva fascist slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Rama) are raised during the Vichar Sangosthis and Mayawati is gifted with typical upper-caste Hindu symbols like tridents.
While Uttar Pradesh has nearly 11% of upper-caste voters, the Dalits constitute roughly 20% of the population and Muslims another 19%. Mayawati knows that the 40% OBC voters will be divided among the BJP and the SP. The non-Jatav Dalits, who are 8% of the population, will also not vote for the BSP. The entire upper-caste Hindu vote bank is polarised under the BJP’s saffron banner. Therefore, she has to split the Hindu vote bank and claim her share, for which she has to essentially appear as a “Hindu” politician.
This is compelling her to seek an oxymoron Brahmin-Dalit unity, which paid a rich dividend in the 2007 polls. The upper-caste Brahmins will never accept the Dalit hegemony in the state and the only reason they can vote against the BJP, which serves their caste, is the supremacy exerted by the feudal landlord Thakur clan under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s rule. Yogi himself is a Thakur and has been allegedly aiding his caste, though Thakurs are technically second to the Brahmins, who hold the supreme position in the Hindu caste hierarchy.
But this frantic appeasement of upper-castes, the “enlightened”, isn’t merely a typical BSP thing. Akhilesh Yadav-led SP has been trying hard to woo the upper-caste Brahmin voters as well. The SP’s social-engineering programme, which helped it control the Muslim and OBC voters for years, is faltering. The non-Yadav OBCs have switched allegiance to the Hindutva fascist camp, ignoring its toxic Brahminical hegemony. A section of the Yadav OBCs has also switched camps. This is compelling the SP, which has faced incessant defeats since 2014, to lure the Brahmin voters.
Like the BSP’s symposiums, the SP is also holding its typical Hindutva programmes for the upper castes. The SP leadership also organised a “Shiv Sevak Sammelan” (conference of Lord Shiva’s disciples) to address the Goswami sect among the upper castes on Monday, September 6th 2021. The SP will continue to organise such conferences in the days to come, as per the party’s leadership.
Both SP and BSP claim that the Brahmins, whose ideology and interests are served by the BJP, are unhappy with Yogi and his alleged biases. The Opposition claims that the Brahmins, who have been largely leftover by the Uttar Pradesh government, will vote against the BJP. This assumption has been driving these parties that swore allegiance to ‘social justice’ to give up their core ideological position.
It’s not merely the BJP’s aggressive campaigning that helped it wean away many Dalits and OBCs from the BSP and SP. It’s the weakness of the duo, which prevented them from containing the erosion. If at the one end is their indulgence in graft, then on the other end is their ideological vacillation. This is a reason for their failure. While both SP and the BSP consider the Muslim vote bank as granted, it may not be a cakewalk for them in 2022.
All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi has been luring the Muslim voters of Uttar Pradesh, asking them to dump the BSP-SP to support an exclusively Muslim parochial political setup, many Muslims in the state know the futility of such polarisation drives for a minority community, but many will support the move after experiencing the debauchery of the so-called “secular” parties. If the AIMIM manages to garner a lot of Muslim votes, especially in constituencies where the community has a significant presence, then the SP or the BSP will be doomed.
The SP and the BSP need to realise that the reason they have survived so far in politics is because of these particular vote banks that they had created. If the BJP has encroached upon their vote banks, then they must wage an ideological struggle, exposing how the hardcore Brahminical BJP is anti-Dalit and anti-OBC. They can easily show that apart from macabre atrocities on the Muslims, the BJP rule has also sponsored violence against the Dalits and the OBCs. The issue of social justice, which they had followed earlier, brought them the support of their vote banks, and they didn’t have to depend on other vote banks, except for Mayawati’s tryst with Brahmins.
With 40% OBCs, 20% Dalits and 19% Muslims, the SP and the BSP could have easily polarised 79% vote bank unitedly, if they have collectively retained their social justice position and ideologically opposed the BJP, along with on-ground resistance. The BSP even didn’t take any strong standpoint on the ongoing farmers’ movement against Modi’s three anti-farmer laws that has shaken the BJP’s rule in Uttar Pradesh. The SP has passively supported the movement and only assisted the farmers in Muzaffarnagar, where they organised a grand conference recently.
To win the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Opposition needs an issue-driven and ideology-driven unity, which can come from their collective support for social justice. If they continue to remain fragmented and disarrayed, if they continue to poach the BJP’s consolidated upper-caste voters, they will fail miserably and, eventually, lose their loyal voters who expected social justice from these parties. Moreover, the hobnobbing of the SP leadership with hardcore criminals will further deteriorate the situation, as the people remember the horror of the mafia rule that it promoted between 2005 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2017. If both parties can give up their mission of appeasing the upper-castes and return to their roots, then they can give the BJP a strong fight and can wean away a large number of Dalit and OBC voters from the saffron fold. However, it all depends on how serious they are in defeating the BJP vis-à-vis serving their existential crisis.