Is Bahujan Politics Ending?

A Correspondent

In the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the vote share of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has nosedived to an insignificant 13%. Similar fall is also witnessed for the Congress. On the other hand, the Samajwadi Party (SP) has improved its position by winning 111 seats (64 MLAs more than its previous tally) and has increased its voting percentage to 33. Though both the SP and the BSP failed to topple the incumbent Yogi Adityanath’s regime, their combined vote share (45.48%) is more than the Bharatiya Janata Party’s vote share (41.29%). This is significant.

For one thing the BSP chief Mayawati was inactive and has failed to represent the BSP as BJP’s primary opposition. Second, it was also visible that the party was hallucinating about its conventional social engineering tactics and assumed that the traditional vote base (the Jatavs) is still committed to the party. Third, the party has not shown deep ideological sincerity to challenge the right-wing party and has failed to offer distinct political programme that may attract the new generation into its fold. On the electoral turf, the party appeared lethargic, its leadership looked unconvincing and there was lack of zeal amongst the ordinary activists. Examining these facts, one can assume that the BSP was not keen on winning the electoral battles.

It is the SP that slowly and steadily crafted its image as the serious contender for state power. The SP built social and political alliances with smaller but influential political parties and offered a comprehensive agenda for the development of the state. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav regalvanised the support base of the Yadav community, gained the trust of the Muslims and also regrouped the farming castes by building a strong tie-up with Jat-based Rashtriya Lok Dal. SP’s political campaign was impressive that offered substantive challenge to the right-wing; however, it failed to make much dent into BJP’s citadel and emerged only as a timid opposition.

Importantly, the BJP registered an impressive victory not because the opposition failed to challenge the right-wing party with more grit, confidence and ideological merit; instead the Congress and the SP actually demonstrated such will. It appears that the SP, was unaware about BJP’s crucial cultural strategies and ignored how the right-wing’s ideological campaigns proliferates effectively with the help of state and political establishments.

The BJP’s politics is based on the emotive mobilisation of the Hindus. The inclusive Hindu metaphor has perpetually been used by the right-wing party to challenge the Dalit-Bahujan assertions and its politics of social justice. Though a large mass of Dalits and OBCs belonged to the poor strata, has not gained much economic mobility during the Yogi’s regime and has continued to suffer under economic injustices, they chose the BJP over the rest because of their emotional and cultural connect. BJP has invented influential cultural strategies to enroll and engage the Hindu lower castes into periodic social rituals and political events and thus build a strong bond with the marginalised groups.

Second, on ground, the BJP is a strong organisation with huge capitalist resources. The relationship between the party, state executives and the ordinary activists were well coordinated during the election times. The BJP organised big cultural events, massive road-shows involving the top leadership and effectively sponsored multiple non-party campaigns. Further, BJP’s digital campaign was aggressive, overarching and better than its counterpart. There was unapologetic circulation of fake/paid news, often utilised to give a communal twist to the political issue or to provide a vital spin to the SP’s campaign. The popular news channels overtly supplemented BJP’s political campaigns and refuse to offer critical and fair scrutiny against the establishment.

Third, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma and Yogi’s militant posturing retained its capacity to bewitch the voters whereas the earlier regimes by SP and the BSP are remembered with much negativity and crude allegations of corruption and nepotism. Similar criticisms against State and Central governments were not proliferated much. Though the opposition built sincere criticism during the pandemic period and also during the farmers’ movement, it didn’t develop into a massive resentment against the government.

Beyond the politics of social justice: The SP-BSP, though equipped with ideological merit and wish to provide voice to the grievances of the deprived masses, lacked organisational strength, capitalist resource and charismatic leadership. The opposition failed to offer a viable challenge to the BJP’s cultural politics and tried to mobilise the worst-off social groups on the banal socialist-welfarist promises. Further, the opposition parties remained engaged mainly in electoral calculation based on the conventional arrangement of caste and communities and failed to challenge the BJP on its core competence—mainly effective election management, perception building initiatives and availability of strong capitalist resources.

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Vol 54, No. 41, April 10 - 16, 2022