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Her Sarvajan Test | The Indian Express

If the army feels it requires continuation of the AFSPA to discharge its responsibilities, no other agency is qualified to credibly challenge that view. The building of a pan-Indian Dalit party was the goal of B.R. Ambedkar for 20 years. He successively initiated the Independent Labour Party (1935),the Scheduled Castes Federation (1942) and the Republican Party of India (1956). But none of these could make an impact,largely because Dalit jatis were not prepared to join hands and support the same party. In fact,the Mahars Ambedkars caste fellows were the only ones who tended to support his parties. The Bahujan Samaj Party,founded in 1984 by a militant Ambedkarite,Kanshi Ram,has gradually overcome this handicap. In the course of the past two decades,it has emerged as a full-fledged Dalit party,largely because it was in a position to cash in on the development of a Dalit counter-culture (look at the Dalit poetry) and positive discriminations programmes which have given birth to a Dalit middle class whose dedicated members were keen to organise themselves and their caste fellows. In its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh,where the BSP could rely on the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF),a movement of mostly Dalit public-sector employees that Kanshi Ram had developed from the 1970s onwards,the BSP became the third largest party in 1989. It then benefited from the impact it could make as a coalition partner of the Samajwadi Party at the helm of the government of Uttar Pradesh in 1993-95. In this capacity,it advocated policies intended to promote the interests of the Dalits at large,such as the Ambedkar Village Scheme. Mayawati,the BSP leader,repeated the same strategy when she became chief minister of UP with the support of the BJP in 1996-97 and 2003. Eventually,the BSP won a majority of seats in the state assembly in 2007. While in office in UP,the BSP has combined symbolic and substantial measures. On the one hand,it has given the name of Dalit personalities to districts and stadiums and built a large number of Ambedkar statues in order to visibly inscribe the subaltern in the monumental history and public space of India and,thereby,to foster their self-esteem. On the other hand,it has accomplished the fullest implementation of quotas ever achieved in the state. It has also strictly implemented the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989,which has started to transform social relations at the local level. The BSP has gradually reinforced its stand among Dalits at large,so much so that it is not,any more,the party of one jati,the Jatavs (the caste of Mayawati),but the party of most of the UP Dalits. In 2009,according to a CSDS survey,85 per cent of the Jatavs,64 per cent of the Dusadhs (or Pasis) and 61 per cent of other Dalits have voted for the BSP. With 21 per cent of the Dalits voting for the BSP (against 27 per cent voting for the Congress),according to CSDS data,the party has become the third largest party in India (by vote share),ahead of the Communist Party of India (Marxist),in 2009. This is the first caste-based and caste-oriented party climbing on to the podium of national parties. To be recognised as a national party,a party needs,among other things,to win more than 5 per cent of valid votes,and the BSP received more than 6 per cent valid votes in 2009. But can 2007 be repeated? In 2007,the BSP was able to aggregate additional voters to its Dalit votebank. The 2007 UP elections were the testing ground of a strategy initiated by Kanshi Ram in the late 1990s,which consists of opening up not only to non-Dalit people something he had always done,right from the creation of the BAMCEF,as evident from the name of the organisation itself but also to non-Bahujans,that is to the upper castes,provided they were not given a share of power that would be superior to their share of the population. As a result,Kanshi Ram nominated an increasing number of upper-caste candidates in the 1999 elections,in proportion to their percentage in the population. Mayawati pursued the same agenda. She simply adapted it to the conditions of UP where a Dalit-dominated party like the BSP was in a good position to attract Brahmins and Vaishyas. These two groups had more interests in common with Dalits than with the Rajputs. In fact,the common enemy of Dalits and Banias as well as Brahmins was the nexus formed,around Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh,by the dominant OBCs including the Yadavs and the Rajputs,both landed groups which attempted to rule village life and which the upper castes regarded as responsible for the declining law-and-order situation. This strategy culminated in the ticket distribution Mayawati made in 2007. Of 402 candidates,the BSP nominated 86 Brahmins,91 Dalits,38 Vaishyas and as many Rajputs,and about 60 Muslims. While the number of OBCs were fewer than in 2002,they were in greater numbers 110. This strategy produced good results. The BSP could rely on its Dalit supporters in such a way that it could ask them to vote for upper-caste,Muslim or OBC candidates who brought with them additional suffrage from their own community. The BSPs transferable votebank and this plus vote explained the 2007 success: not only did the BSP continue to make progress among the Dalits with 77 per cent of the votes (as against 69 per cent in 2002),but it also attracted 16 per cent of the upper castes (as against 5 per cent in 2002),27 per cent of the non-Yadav OBC and 17 per cent of Muslims. The BSP was on its way to becoming a catch-all party. Whether such an achievement can be repeated,will depend upon a large number of factors: the assessment of Mayawatis policies among the upper castes,their fear of a comeback by Mulayam Singh Yadav,the division of the non-Dalit vote among the SP,the Congress and the BJP and,last but not least,the impact of the coming together of many small Muslim parties. The writer is a senior research fellow at CERI,Sciences Po,Paris,express@expressindia.com.
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