With the decimation of much of the Opposition and the aggressive inroads made by the BJP, the BSP wants to dig in as an exclusive party of the Dalit. It doesn’t want to dilute its brand value and agenda by allying with other parties.
Abhinav Prakash Singh
The ongoing high-voltage political drama in Karnataka has once again brought into focus the role of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as a force in the political arena. The BSP has a lone MLA in Karnataka who was initially part of the HD Kumaraswamy Cabinet.
However, the BSP later walked away from the Congress-Janata Dal(Secular) alliance government although it reiterated its support for the government while distancing itself from the Congress at the same time. The official reason was to focus on the organisation and the constituency work but it followed a pattern across India where the BSP had begun to distance itself from the Congress.
It has categorically kept the Congress out of the grand alliance in the Uttar Pradesh and failed to arrive at a seat-sharing agreement in the 2018 legislative elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Even in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the BSP announced to go solo in all states except UP where it was in an alliance with its old nemesis, the Samajwadi Party (SP).
It seems that the BSP’s core policy is to contest elections alone and stitch up alliances after the verdict, if such an opportunity arises. The pre-poll SP-BSP alliance in UP was an exception, but we have seen that if such an alliance is unable to form the government, the BSP has been quick to leave it.
What explains such a strategy?
One reason is that the BSP knows that as of now it is far from winning more than a few seats outside of UP. Therefore, it has little to gain in an alliance with stronger parties. It is better for the BSP to contest alone and build a separate identity while trying to increase its vote-share. In fact, increasing its vote share to 6% nationally is an important part of the BSP strategy so as to acquire the tag of a national party.
Also, the Dalits remain the core vote-bank of the party, and the party wants to tap into this community’s desire for political empowerment. It thinks that it will be difficult to raise the Dalit issues aggressively if it is part of an alliance because it will have to soften its political rhetoric keeping in mind the interest and sensibilities of the other social groups in the alliance. This handicap was felt most acutely in the ’90s when the BSP was in power in the UP in alliance with the Mulayam Singh-led SP.
It seems that the bitter lessons of that ill-fated alliance made the BSP leadership suspicious and fearful of such alliances. The experience of such alliances has been that the BSP has always lost its elected representatives to the poaching by the stronger alliance partners. It also reflects the asymmetry of social power where even the elected representatives of the BSP are susceptible to the outside pressure, be it in the form of threats, the allure of monetary rewards, patronage or appeal to the caste loyalties, especially in the case of the non-Dalit representatives.
Also, with the decimation of much of the Opposition, especially the Congress, and the aggressive inroads made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Dalit constituencies, the BSP is left with no option but to dig in as an exclusive party of the Dalit. It doesn’t want to dilute its brand value and agenda by allying with other parties.
On the flip side, this reflects the bankruptcy of the imagination of the party leadership, which fails to see that the BJP has grown by making social and political coalitions and not by any rigidity in its approach towards issues. The BSP is at a total loss on how to deal with the changing political landscape and new aspirations of the Dalit youth.
Another important aspect is BSP chief Mayawati’s paranoia and insecurity, as she continues to run the party as her personal fiefdom. Her temperament and untrusting personality means that she hardly reposes faith in her party leaders and cadre. She is known for changing the entire party leadership and office-bearers arbitrarily so that no one is able to consolidate his/her position within the party. The opportunistic and fickle alliance with other parties is but a natural extension of this tendency.
In fact, the BSP, as a matter of ideology, believes that weak coalitions and unstable political environments are beneficial for the growth of a party representing Dalits and other downtrodden sections. Thus, the BSP’s political alliances are not aimed at creating a stable coalition, but at extracting maximum possible benefits from such alliances before shattering it. The history of the BJP-BSP alliance in UP in the ’90s and early 2000s bears testimony to this deeply-held belief since the days of Kanshi Ram.
It remains to be seen as to what will be the future of the BSP as it charts its solo path in the face of the BJP which is on a relentless expansion drive. What is clear is that the BSP has failed to protect its Dalits voter base. If in 2009 general elections its vote-share was 6.17 per cent, in 2014 it reduced to 4.19 per cent, and in the recently concluded general elections it further went down to 3.63 per cent..Abhinav Prakash Singh is assistant professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi, Delhi. Views are personal.The Great Diwali Discount!
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