By Soroor Ahmed
From Assam to Punjab, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have witnessed political marginalisation in the last few years. If the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was completely decimated in Uttar Pradesh, in Punjab the first Dalit chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi not only led his Congress party to disaster but he himself lost from both the constituencies by a big margin.
In West Bengal last year the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) left no stone unturned to woo Matuas and other SC/STs and even managed to get a sizeable number of their votes yet the saffron party suffered a humiliating defeat in the Assembly election. Though the Trinamool Congress would again try to win over them yet at present this section of the society appears to be left high and dry.
In neighbouring Assam, though the BJP returned to power last summer yet it replaced its tribal chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal with a Brahmin face, Himanta Biswa Sarma. Two months later, that is on July 7, Sonowal was once again accommodated into the Narendra Modi cabinet. Sonowal’s presence as CM may simply have been symbolic yet it still has a significance.
In Bihar the Lok Janshakti Party, which claims to be the party of Dalits, could win only one seat in the Assembly election held for 243-member House in October-November 2020. Many in the party attributed this poor performance to the death of its founding leader Ram Vilas Paswan, a Union minister, on October 8, that is just 20 days before the first phase of poll in the state. But actually the decision of LJP to go it alone and not in alliance with other NDA constituents proved costly.
While the lone victorious LJP MLA later crossed over to the Janata Dal (United), later on the eve of July 7, 2021 cabinet overhaul the parliamentary party got split – five out of six MPs revolted against the leadership of Chirag Paswan, the son of senior Paswan. Chirag’s uncle, Pashupati Kumar Paras, was then inducted into the cabinet by Prime Minister Modi.
But the Dalit politics suffered a serious setback in UP, the state which has the highest concentration of SC voters in the country, and Punjab where 31.9 per cent of the electorate come from this section of the society. Punjab is the home state of Kanshi Ram. Here BSP fought in alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal.
In between these upheavals in the SC/ST politics Jharkhand witnessed the return to power of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a party of tribals, in late December 2019. Hemant Soren, son of the tribal icon Shibu Soren, took oath as the chief minister after five long years of BJP rule. The BJP made Raghubar Das, a first non-tribal, chief minister after its victory in December 2014 Assembly poll in Jharkhand.
The decline of Dalit political parties and leaders is often being attributed to the rise of the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi. But the history of BSP’s downhill journey can be traced to the pre-Modi era. It needs to be mentioned that BSP lost the UP Assembly election of 2012 to the Samajwadi Party and not the BJP, two years before the advent of Modi. Mayawati became the first
chief minister of UP to complete full term after over six long decades.
She lost the 2012 election notwithstanding the fact that on law and order front her performance was rated better than her predecessors by many political analysts. Some even give more marks to her on this count than the present Yogi government. There is an argument that BSP became a rudderless ship and Mayawati became weak after the death of its founder Kanshi Ram. But the fact is that Kanshi Ram died on October 9, 2006, that is several months before Mayawati alone led the BSP to victory in the summer of 2007.
The big question then is: If Mayawati was really a good administrator then why she lost in 2012 Assembly poll in which the BJP was relegated to third position and subsequent elections and this time her party could win only one seat in Uttar Pradesh? Was there some other reason behind her becoming so irrelevant not only in the national politics, but even in UP where she had served as the chief minister for four times.
Some watchers of Dalit politics are of the view that the prompt implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 drove the non-Dalit supporters away from the BSP.
However, many non-Dalits alleged that this Act was misused to falsely implicate innocent people. But the BSP’s Dalit supporters believed that hate crimes and discrimination against them came down during the Mayawati rule. They give credit to the proper implementation of the 1989 Act.
Anyway the Brahmins, who were instrumental in her victory in 2007, distanced themselves from the BSP in 2012, that is even before the rise of Narendra Modi. In 2014, though the BSP drew blank, it got 19.82 per cent votes against 27.42 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. In the past elections the BSP would often get votes of a sizeable number of Muslims. This was so notwithstanding the fact that in the past she had joined hands with the saffron party.
This time the BSP’s vote share came down from 22.2 per cent in 2017 to 12.88 per cent. Some political pundits are of the view that the BSP leadership gave enough hint to its supporters to shift their votes to the BJP if they think that the Samajwadi Party is likely to win in that particular constituency. There are at least two reasons for this strategy.
First, Mayawati wanted to keep the Union government in good humour and thus save her skin from central agencies.
Secondly, Jatavs, the caste to which Mayawati belongs, and other SCs do not have a cordial relationship with the Jats in west UP and with Yadavs in the rest of the state. The BJP succeeded in exploiting this social contradiction.
The fall of Mayawati in the state with the highest Dalit population deserves to be analysed in more ways than just the rise of Moditva. If the strict implementation of 1989 Act against the atrocities on them is one of the important reasons, the whole issue of empowerment of Dalits needs to be seen in a different light. It raises a question: is the society still not prepared to do justice to Dalits?