Of affidavits are anything to go by, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is clearly a party of millionaires. Dozens of candidates contesting on the party ticket across the country have eight-digit assets, something that most Indians and certainly almost all Dalits can only dream about. The question is: What’s next for the Dalit agenda in the company of these moneybags?
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
It is a question that BSP chief Mayawati should think about carefully. The twin planks of the Dalit agenda—the issue of poor representation of Dalits in politics and public life and their economic empowerment—needed a political party that could break away from the usual constraints of Indian politics. To that end, Mayawati’s initial steps, however sectarian their outlook, were geared to fulfilling that goal.
Somewhere in that pursuit, the means to do so were lost sight of. If money, musclemen and a widening of the caste coalition were called for, these steps were taken without much ado. The danger of a political party following such tactics is that it ends up changing the goals themselves.
The BSP was no exception and today it is hard to believe that it continues to follow its original intent, except possibly in a mutated form. In real terms, reservations became the start and end of all policymaking. What this does is prevent any meaningful analysis by the party’s support base of what is going on in the party. Reservation has a powerful symbolic value that serves as a substitute for the substantive parts of the Dalit agenda. It goes without saying that it makes a poor substitute.
It is difficult to say when this switch took place, but one can conjecture that it was sometime between Mayawati’s tenures as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 1995-1997 and 2003. In UP, “mobilization” requires that a party have a set of “strongmen”. All parties have them and perhaps it was too much for the BSP to escape such tendencies. First came D.P. Yadav; now the who’s who of that class can be found in the BSP.
Viewed in this light, it is not surprising that the BSP has acquired its own millionaires. Some analysts and commentators have argued this demonstrates the comfort between a Dalit party and an emergent middle class. The roots of the BSP, the dynamics of UP politics and the trajectory followed by overtly centralized parties, however, point to another direction. The BSP is now another, “normal”, party of the Hindi heartland, busy trying to hoodwink its unsuspecting supporters.
Millionaires and musclemen: has the BSP taken a turn for the worse? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org