By Arun Srivastava
While Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the dalit outfit has been consistently losing its political relevance, the charisma of dalit messiah Mayawati, the BSP supremo, has been witnessing a steep decline. With the changing times and shifting economic priorities and compulsions, the BSP has also undergone complete transformation. Under the stewardship of Kanshi Ram, BSP represented the aspiration of exploited and oppressed dalits, but during last two decades it has become a political instrument to serve the interest of the creamy layer, the neo-bourgeoise, of dalits.
This shift in the support base of the party has transformed its ideological orientation. Though this period witnessed a large number of atrocities and oppression on the dalits, Mayawati utterly failed to rise against this tyrannical politics. She did not even try to build a popular dalit mass movement against this phenomenon. Primarily, this averseness of Mayawati has been responsible for formation of other dalit groups and outfits throughout the country.
It is significant that Mayawati’s strategy to combine together the dalits and other castes, has proved to be failure. On one or two occasions, this helped her gain some power, but it eroded the political base of the Dalits. BSP miserably failed to build a broader alliance of the dalit outfits and work as the vanguard. It is imperative that the BSP must rethink its electoral strategy and go for tactical alliances if it wants to survive the present phase.
A fortnight back, all the six members of the BSP legislature party in Rajasthan joined the Congress. Mayawati described the development “a betrayal of the BSP movement, at a time when the BSP was giving unconditional support to the Congress government from outside”. But contrary to this accusation, this development underlines that BSP has lost its identity of being a dalit outfit. Their joining Congress also endorses the fact that it was simply not conjured with the motive of financial gain. For them joining the BJP could have been more gainful as a change of government would have taken place.
Mayawati describing the Congress as a party that is “against SCs, STs, OBCs and has never been sincere and honest about the right to reservation of these classes” could not help to convince the legislators and keep the flock together. Now with their entry, the Congress will cross the halfway mark.
The fact of the matter is Mayawati does not have a clear vision as to how to motivate and politicise the Dalits to fight against the upper caste Hindu oppression. Ever since Narendra Modi came to power the atrocities against dalit has increased substantially. Whether it is in Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh. But Mayawati failed to motivate them to fight. In fact, smaller dalit groups have undertaken this task.
At least two prominent young dalit leaders have emerged on the horizon during this time; Melwani and Chandra Shekhar Azad –‘Ravan’. The fiery Dalit activist from Uttar Pradesh shot to prominence in 2017 when he was jailed for over a year for a Thakur-Dalit clash in Saharanpur. Called ‘Ravan’ by his followers, in a subaltern challenge to BJP’s Ram, he put up a signboard in his village that read, ‘The Great Chamars of Dhadkhauli Welcome You’. The 32-year-old, who leads the Bhim Army, is seen as one of the faces of an emerging radical Bahujan movement. The recent Bollywood film, Article 15, had a character modelled on him. He nurses the view that the progressives among the upper castes need to come forward to question caste hierarchy. But it is time we lead our struggles and tell our stories.
Unfortunately, Mayawati hates him. She holds a very skewed notion that upper caste political leaders have promoted to cut her support base. While Mayawati promotes some individual dalit leaders, Ravan’s mission has been “to fight for our rights and [not] have to tolerate any oppression”. He says: “It is time our voices rang louder on the streets. When the system is so geared up against us, what else can we do? I was blamed for the violence in Saharanpur and arrested, but nobody speaks of the violence wrecked on us. The state brands Dalits who raise their voice as Naxals, as we have seen in Bhima Koregaon, and Muslims as terrorists. Bhim Army is Ambedkarite in its outlook — Educate, Organise and Agitate. We believe nothing comes without struggle and we are ready for any sacrifice.”
No denying the fact the rise of radical Dalit leaders and their large followings among the youth indicate the failure of Dalit politics of the Mayawati brand. Most of Dalit politicians today are crorepatis — they come from dynasties that don’t know them. These so called dalit parties compromise on the ideological front, they ally with a brahminical party like the BJP. With these leaders stuck in AC rooms, the youngsters fight on the streets, giving rise to new leaders and a militant movement.
The Dalit vote has attained massive importance for the right-wing political parties. The BJP now seeks to claim the legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, even to defend the revoking of Article 370 in J&K. The BSP has supported the move. Dalits are the biggest targets of lynchings, even more than Muslims. (IPA Service)