Why Mayawati’s defeat is the BSP’s victory

Satish Chandra Mishra with Mayawati at a rally near Delhi during the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, amongst the last such appearances together

Even before the results came out, the Mayawati cabinet passed a resolution to dissolve the assembly. Never before has an incumbent shown such confidence about losing. Mayawati’s body language during the campaign was proof of the same lack of confidence. Mayawati was going to lose, the Samajwadi Party was in the air. And yet, Mayawati must be relieved right now. She knows that this defeat of hers is, ironically, a victory of the Bahujan Samaj Party and what it stands for. Here’s how.

When in 2007 the BSP came to power with 206 of 403 seats, it adopted “Sarvajan Sukhaye, Sarvajan Hitaye” as its motto. The words mean that its government was one for everyone’s welfare and everyone’s interests. This was the brave new BSP sought to shed its ‘image’ as a party of the Dalits. It was this image makeover that had helped it capitalise on popular disenchatment over law and order with the Samajwadi Party government. The image makeover’s centre-piece was its Dalit-Brahmin alliance.

Immediately after coming to power, Mayawati thought of herself as an emperor of sorts, who has won one territory and would now go around capturing the rest of the land. She put forth her prime ministerial ambitions bluntly. Can’t the daughter of a Dalit become Prime Minister, she asked? A new fleet of helicopters helped her fly here, there and everywhere. As many expected the UPA government to fall over the nuclear deal, she opened channels with the Left Front. So confident she was of the possibility of her becoming a serious player in Delhi that she even addressed a rally in Kohima in Nagaland!

The Lok Sabha results were disappointing: she expected 60 of 80 seats in UP but won only 19. This was partly because the Congress did well: it made voters respond to its performance at the centre, which included things like NREGA. The upper caste “Sarvajan” voters did not see any reason why she should be prime minister. More importantly, many Dalits did not turn up to vote, something not reflected in exit poll data. The exit poll data for 2009 does show, however, a shift from some non-Jatav voters to other parties, mainly the Congress.

While Mayawati initially blamed Muslim voters for the 2009 debacle, the feedback from the party cadres must have been shattering: the drop in the number of Dalits who did not go to the polling booth was in some parts as high as 25%. A number of Dalits felt that if they go to the polling booth, they would not be able to press any button other than that of the elephant.

Why were the Dalits so enchanted in 2009, just two years after their party had made history by coming to power with a majority, on its own, led by a non-Congress Dalit?

They were disenchanted because Mayawati’s arrival in power in 2007 did not mean any change in life for them. Mayawati diluted the SC/ST Atrocities Act’s implementation, giving upper castes in villages the cart blanche with violence. She did not offer them anything by way of land redistribution, BPL cards, jobs and so on. Mayawati was particular her cadres should not go around showing off their power, so the cadres could not get anything done for the Dalit voter, and could not make money for themselves.

Part of the reason Mayawati behaved this was was because she was trying to change the “tone” of her government to that of “Sarvjan Samaj,” which essentially meant that she would do nothing the upper castes didn’t like. The BSP cadres responded to complaints from Dalit voters by saying that for now they must keep quiet and vote like a herd because, well, the daughter of a dalit had to become Prime Minister.

Many Dalit voters felt betrayed. They had been turned into BSP voters by being told that the BSP contests the first election to lose, the second to defeat and the third to win. The Dalit voter of Uttar Pradesh had thus been taught patience but patience has a limit. Now that the BSP had reached its stated goal – that of power with which it always said it would unlock the dreams of Dalits. Now that the moment had come, she was saying wait some more.

In such a scenario, Rahul Gandhi was going around sleeping in Dalit homes. Mayawati was so insecure of this that even before the 2009 results, Mayawati had started taking digs at Rahul Gandhi. She famously said that the next morning Rahul Gandhi goes home and bathes with a special soap to purify himself, having interacted with Dalits.

After May 2009, as a result, Mayawati changed the “tone” of her government. In name it remained a Sarvajan government. But in practise, Dalits started getting what they wanted. To give this signal, she sidelined Satish Chandra Mishra, her Brahmin mascot. Rare is a moment between 207 and 2009 when Mayawati was seein in public without the presence of SC Mishra. Rare is a moment since 2009 when she has been seen with SC Mishra.

It wasn’t symbolism alone. She did what the Dalit masses wanted: gave their educated lot jobs, especially as assistant teachers, made the SC/ST Atrocities Act’s implementation more stringent, gave small pieces of land to thousands of landless Dalits, built them houses. Travelling in UP this election season, many journalists noticed the anger amongst non-Dalits with the SC/ST Atrocities Act, in every pat of UP. This was contrary to the perception that the Act was not being implemented, a perception created by the Lucknow and Delhi media and by the Congress party.

Right now in UP, you will be told wherever you go that Mayawati’s government benefited only Dalits, just as Mualayam’s benefited only Yadavs. I met Brahmins and Bhumihars who’d rather vote for BJP or Congress but who said they were voting for SP this time to make sure the BSP would go out. Ironically, the SP has its own Sarvajan moment right now: Akhilesh Singh is praising UP voters for rising above caste, by which he means that upper castes have voted for SP in large numbers for the first time.

Mayawati, however, must not be shattered right now. Had she not done what she did, she would have lost the Dalit votebank – that would have been the end of her political career. As someone told me during the elections, the BSP was not fighting this election for power. It was fighting this election to save its core.

After her 2007 victory, Mayawati had once said that UP should now be treated like Tamil Nadu, where two regional parties compete for power, and there is no role for the “national” parties. (It must be pointed that the BSP is technically a national party in the Election Commission records.) Mayawati must today be happy that the rising threat of the Congress has subsided for now. A victory for Mulayam bothers her less than 100 seats for the Congress would have. SP is the ideological and caste opposite of the BSP. The SP and BSP define each other, and don’t leave room for BJP and Congress. Which is why workers of the BJP and the Congress alike complain about the evil of caste politics.

Mayawati’s defeat is the BSP’s victory. It’s a victory of democracy that the BSP’s voters were able to make the BSP deliver to them what they deserved for their loyalty, and what they do not get in governments led by other parties.

The question now is, what will the Dalit voter have to face under an SP government? Will there be a backlash at the village level? Will the Lucknow media and the Congress party remain equally concerned about violence against Dalits as they were under Mayawati rule?

(First published in Rediff.com on 6 March 2012.)

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25 thoughts on “Why Mayawati’s defeat is the BSP’s victory”

    1. Any large vote block will have electoral advantages in democracy. Muslims as a block are next only to Dalits in strength in UP. However, in recent years they have played only second fiddle to Dalits or Yadavas. Having said that, you may realize that caste and regional identities are more important to Hindus for which you can hardly blame Muslims for that. Muslims also have castes, as they orinated from Hindus (Arabs call them Hanud), and low caste Muslim are often very poor. But previledges given to Muslims mostly go to upper caste Muslims, as to OBCs goes to Yadavas. However the religious identity is more important in Muslims, and that is the difference in my opinion.


      1. Well, that has changed in Bihar and will change in UP, if it’s not already changing. Religious identity has been important amongst Muslims in UP because they have been and continue to be targeted on account of their religious identity by Hindus and by the state – riots, Babri demolition, threats to their religious sites, false terrorism cases and so on.


  1. I am not happy with your argument. Once she was elected, Mayawati was responsible to all the Uttar Pradeshis, not just her BSP voters. The fact that her predecessors did not behave that way (by not caring about Dalits at all) does not make them right, nor does it make Mayawati right. If what Mayawati did in the latter half of her tenure — essentially ignoring non-Dalits — then why complain about Narendra Modi simply ignoring Muslims, as has been amply documented? Isn’t he catering to his core constituency?

    Of course, all governments have to cater to the demands of the constituencies which elect them. No one denies that. Governance, I suppose, is about balancing the broader interests — what you call sarvajan samaj — against the interests of your core constituency.

    If I understand you rightly, what you seem to be saying is that in Uttar Pradesh (and presumably India as a whole) it is impossible to do such a balancing act. If that is indeed the case, then we might as well go the whole hog and split India into separate independent areas based on caste (and religion). Should be an interesting exercise.


      1. Mr Suresh, 166 million dalits donot give any shits to Hindus or their hindu led party.Mayawati had stopped the Dr Ambedkar mission which is to convert 166 million dalits to Buddhism and fight the war with hindus on religion basis.Congress isa real enemy who is hiding her face in name of secularism but BJP is a open enemy of dalits and muslims in India.120 million muslims should form their own political party to fight the election rather look for SP or Congress.in 1947 , 37% of muslims population were in government jobs and in 2009 they come below 3% means congress is the real enemy of dalits.Mayawati have to convert to buddhism means ,Buddhism population will grow 15% in UP and we can defeat the hindu party by joining with minorities.


  2. It’s a victory of democracy that the BSP’s voters were able to make the BSP deliver to them what they deserved for their loyalty, and what they do not get in governments led by other parties.

    You have some strange ideas about ‘democracy’.


  3. Your argument makes a lot of sense when we analyse the UP results. in hindsight. It is also what happened in Goa too,where the BJP won because there was no credible Z factor- to refer to a previous post on “hawa”. That’s like the reverse sweep of cricket !


  4. By far one of the most facual and probably the best posting that I have come across in Kafila since I got introduced to it. I am from a UP village and seen it closely how the different sections of the society behave. The UP politics for years to come will revolve around three vote blocks- Dalits, Yadava/OBCs and Muslims. In villages, Muslims behave as a caste and not religion and treat Dalits the same way as Yadavas do. Most atrocities against Dalits (farm worker) are committed by Yadavas (farmers), and rarely by other castes. Therefore, the political power will center around either Mayavati or Mulayam. The extent of Congress success will depend on its inrode in Muslim voles, and BJP on dividing OBCs in upper and lower levels. In an earlier rule by Mulayam brand socialism, the law and order deteriorated to the extent that gundas were freely operaring on every level. That led to Mayavati in CM chair. But the Dalit emancipation is resented by all other sections of the society, so now Mulayam socialists in power. I personally prefer an inefficient and wasteful Mayavati over gunda supporting Mulayam, even if he uses a SOCIALIST label. In my opinion, the culture of crime,atrocities and unfairnes cultivated in a few years cannot be reversed in decades. I hope, the Delhi brand leftist will not condone the Mulayam brand socialism, as understood so far. And hopefully, SP will behave more responsibly this time for SARVaJAN HITAY.


    1. @Avinash, In Pakistan Hindus are taking all guddies which are for minorities.In Pakistan ,Hindus are having separate electorate where they can send their candidates in parliament and assembly without muslims votes.why you are forgetting In india ,166 million dalits are denied every rights in name secular government infact medias ,judges,political party ,all are hindus even in 21 st century hindus are still occupying Bodh gaya temple and you are talking for Pakistan.


      1. @ Kumarpushp, you can live in your own delusions. I am just wondering whether this is what you call the guddies the minorities are enjoying:


        There are hardly 2.5 million (out of 180 million) “minorities” in Pakistan at present.

        To my knowledge the most powerful politician in India is a neutralized
        Christian, the Prime Minister is a Sikh, the Vice President is a Muslim, the CJI is a Parsi, the Defence Minister is a Christian, the Law Minister is a Muslim………………………only the President is a Hindu!!

        What has Hindus as such got to do with Bodh Gaya Temple? I have not seen that nor do I have any intention to ever see that.


  5. Indian PM has no power ,he did not win a single municipal election,majority of Supreme court ,High court judges are hindus,all chief secretary are hindus what else you want.Hindus are occupying Bodh gaya .Buddhist of India has filed a PIL regarding Bodh Gaya occupation by Hindus but Hindu medias are keeping their mouth shuts .


  6. The writer is bang on the point “SP is the ideological and caste opposite of the BSP. The SP and BSP define each other, and don’t leave room for BJP and Congress.”. In such a scenario where caste & vote banks are the main focus who is going to genuinely care for ‘development’. Work for both BSP & SP is cut out protect their vote banks & rule….out of 100 Upites 60 vote…you need to score 28% of this 60 i.e in case you are able to protect your votebank & get 17% of voters vote for you…then you are through. So most likely scenario in UP is going to be BSP & SP turn by turn only….not much hope for any considerable development this state which has a population of 4th largest country in the world will continue to rot…


  7. At the end dalits will get separate electorate and separate settlement ,lets OBcs stay with hindus.


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