Maya got her caste arithmetic wrong

By Vrinda Gopinath
22 May 2009

It was a stunned and shocked BSP president and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati who ordered all her principal secretaries to be present in her office in Lucknow on Sunday morning, barely a day after the stunning results of the Lok Sabha results were announced, to take stock of the dismal performance of her party. The results were frightful and shameful to say the least — for a leader and party that was a favourite among pundits and punters to come out top in the state and play a major role in government formation at the Centre, perhaps even stake claim for the top job in the country, the BSP barely adding one more seat to its tally this time, from 19 seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. The party however slipped to third place, from being
number two last time.

The UP CM was quick to grasp the magnitude and reasons for the setback — and she set about setting her house in order. The principal secretaries were summoned to give her a report on the progress of various development schemes the BSP government had launched in the state, and they were asked to immediately go back to the districts they represented and listen to the problems of the people. But it was she who had pulled them out for election work. For dministrative purposes, Mayawati had carved up the state into 19 divisional zones that covered all 71 districts. A day later, on Monday, Mayawati called all her newly-elected MPs, plus party MLAs, to a meeting, to chalk out party strategy in the new scenario. It was unanimously decided that the BSP would offer unconditional support from outside to the new Congress-led UPA government, ostensibly to safeguard secularism. Many sneer it is to keep central investigating agencies off her back.

So, how did Behenji Mayawati come to this pathetic and sorry state of affairs? There were four main reasons – back to the lawlessness and goonda raj of previous times, corruption and megalomania, lack of development, and the deep and lurking revulsion of upper castes of
Dalit dominance. It was only two years ago, in the state Assembly elections in 2007, when Mayawati used her innovative and radical social engineering to deadly effect and come to power with an absolute majority, combining her base Dalit vote with upper caste Brahmins.

On the advice of her key strategist, Satish Mishra, a Rajya Sabha MP and also a Brahmin, the upper castes were given crucial posts in the BSP government as well as in the administration wielding power and influence. There were almost 50 upper caste MLAs elected in the Dalit
party, with Brahmins dominating at 38 MLAs. Mayawati brought back senior UP cadre IAS officers with irrefutable reputation to take over her state administration, and they were mostly upper castes.

In a radical bid to also snuff out corruption in the state administration, Mayawati went full steam to smash the ‘transfer industry’ of previous regimes (though she was herself accused of oiling the ‘industry’ in her three earlier stints as CM, but this time she had resolved to be different.) The motto of her administration was ‘good governance’ and one of the first policy decisions Mayawati took at her first Cabinet meeting as CM, was to relinquish her own powers to order transfers of officials, below the rank of principal secretaries and additional directors general of police.

The CM also finished off the ‘kidnapping industry’, sacked and transferred top police officials, rolled back the arbitrary appointment of over 14,000 Yadavs into the police services, changed
dozens of heads of state corporations, and demanded progress reports from every official. A grateful state welcomed the changes even as Maya cracked the whip.

But barely a year down the line, it all soon began to unravel. Even as crime went down and criminal cases began to be registered and solved, the ground was shifting under Maya’s feet. Even as Maya made a jumbo demand of Rs 80,000 crore from the Centre for the development of UP, most of her projects from power to roads to housing to industry to infrastructure remained mostly on paper. Every month, Mayawati would announce a slew of projects, from urban renewal programmes of UP’s most important cities to rural electrification and education worth thousands of crore, but they remained mostly on paper. She, however, made some inroads in providing civic amenities and doles to Dalit villages under the Ambedkar Gram Vikas Yojna scheme where almost five lakh villages were adopted and put under the scheme.

So, it was with disgust and loathing that the state watched Maya splash more than Rs 5,000 crore on monuments and statues in the name of Dalit pride and empowerment. Says a professor in Lucknow, who did not obviously want to be named, “Sure, many Dalit villages today have
got drinking water, drains, even schools which was denied to them earlier, but there is no excuse for such megalomania. Monuments and statues are erected only after the success of a regime, not before it.”

But the clincher came after Maya went on an overdrive to give tickets to ‘winnable’ candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, in a desperate bid for power in Delhi, and she handed party tickets to over a dozen dreaded bahubalis or criminals lords — from D P Yadav, Mukhtar Ansari, Ashish Shukla, Surendranath Awasthi, Guddu Pandit, among others, who engaged from bootlegging, contract killing, etc. But Maya got a slap when the voters rejected many of them in the election and they lost.

Perhaps, the most stunning was how the upper castes voted for her candidates — out of the 20 Brahmin candidates, five won, plus three Thakur candidates, while only three SC candidates won, apart from four Muslims (out of 14 candidates) and five OBC-MBCs or most backward
castes. As the results come, it looks like many more seats in UP were fought caste-wise to stop the BSP from coming to the Centre. For instance, as many as 13 Brahmins, 12 Thakurs, one Bhumihar, two Jats won, compared to 17 SCs in the state, the rest 30 are shared between
OBCs and Muslims.

The signs were there on Maya’s first day in office in 2007, when a group of Brahmin lawyers from Allahabad, who had come to give their felicitations, told me then, “We wish the Congress would come back, so far we are with Behenji out of lack of choice. Abhi majboori hain. (We
are under compulsion now).”

But it’s not all bad news for Behenji — her vote share has actually increased from 24.7 per cent in 2004, to 27.4 per cent in 2009, though it gave her only one more seat. However, the BSP came second in 48 out of the 60 remaining seats (it won 20). While her Dalit vote base is solid, she needs to woo other castes to make it a winning combination.

As a top bureaucrat says, perhaps Mayawati has to concentrate on her three key strengths — crack administration, delivery system, infrastructure development and inclusive growth. “Mere politicking is not enough,” advises the bureaucrat, “Mayawati has paid for ridiculing the loan waiver schemes, NREGA and Rahul Gandhi sleeping in Dalit hovels. She has to begin to connect again.” For the moment, Mayawati seems to have begun in right earnest all over again.


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