Forming 18 to 19 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population, Muslims can decide the poll outcome in about 100 of the 403 seats. Uttar Pradesh is home to 20.5 per cent of the total scheduled caste (SC) population of India. The demographics of Uttar Pradesh is quite complex which makes it an exciting study in electoral politics and a very volatile state. When news reports of Uttar Pradesh heading for a hung assembly in the upcoming elections first started circulating couple of days back, Avijit, a trade unionist, sent some interesting pictures from Saharanpur, UP. These images were taken using his mid-range mobile phone which had captured telling images from Mayawati’s last week political rally at Saharanpur.
Avijit’s pictures had a common thread — images of rural Muslims actively participating in the rally. Right from teenage boys to old people, most of them in their traditional attire, participated in the rally in massive numbers. Some were carrying the blue flag of BSP. Some came in buses, some came in trains, some came in autorickshaws and several others came on foot. Photographs clearly hinted their class background—they were mostly workers or peasants. Turns out, Mayawati might not have to forge an alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi after all for Dalit-Muslim votes. If she can manage to gain a large section of the Dalit and Muslim vote, the BSP is likely to form the next UP government. These two disadvantaged communities have a shared history in UP.
For the first time ever, the BSP will field 25 per cent Muslim candidates of the total number of its candidates for 2017 UP Assembly elections. Mayawati announced to field 100 Muslim candidates for the 403-seat Uttar Pradesh Assembly and made it clear that the BSP would not form any pre-poll alliance.
People who don’t follow UP politics may wonder what is special about the photographs from Avijit. “The Saharanpur rally and Mayawati’s speech was historic. The rally witnessed an unprecedented participation of Muslims who were historically with the Congress and with the SP in post-Babri Masjid period. Apart from Muslim participation, Mayawati’s speech was historic because she clinically attacked all other parties including Congress for betraying and torturing Muslims. She was indicating that a new social base consisting of Dalits and Muslims at national level can effectively challenge BJP’s communal politics,” Ashok Choudhary, veteran social activist and a longtime observer of UP politics, explained after hearing her speech in Saharanpur.
His statement raised curiosity in me and now I had to watch available videos of Mayawati’s speech. Unlike her other extempore speeches, it was evident that this speech was well planned. It was a living testimony of Mayawati’s political acumen. The fact that the two communities account for 38.5% of the state’s population means that if Mayawati can manage to win the support of Dalit-Muslim combine, it would be more than enough to ensure absolute majority in the state Assembly elections. But Mayawati has bigger plans. The former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh made a huge statement – that her goal is not the upcoming UP Assembly election, but 2019 general election. “If I’m shifting to Delhi by 2019, I assure you that another Dalit would be the CM,” she told the massive gathering at Saharanpur brimming with confidence.
Political observers believe that with this single statement she send a clear message to her existing social base as well as potential ally – Muslims – that she would lead the fight against Narendra Modi’s saffron politics at Centre as well as in UP. When Kanshi Ram, her mentor, formed the BAMCEF, he conceptualised the ‘Bahujans’ as consisting of all the oppressed sections, including Muslims. She made another equally powerful political statement: If the BSP is coming to power in Madhya Pradesh, a Muslim or an OBC would be the CM. She also went on to say that if voted to power, the BSP would pick an Adivasi as CM in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Mayawati also offered a sharp attack on the ‘ultra-nationalistic politics’ of the BJP which was consistently othering Muslims as people with no loyalty towards “Bharat Mata”. She described nationalism of the BJP as “natak”(drama) to divert attention from their policies that favour “Dhanna seth” (capitalists/ rich people) and “sahukars” (money lenders). Shrewdly, she argued how the BJP is diverting attention from serious political issues like agrarian crisis and privatisation and decline of public sector by blowing the nationalism trumpet. “They are sabotaging public sector. We demand extension of reservations in private sector,” she pointed out.
While attacking communal nationalism of the BJP and resultant communal riots, she also made some pertinent points. First, she brought a class dimension to the communal riots and killings. Her argument was that it is always poor, especially working class and peasants, who get affected during riots. She could establish that anti-communalism is primarily poor man’s issue. Secondly, she pinpointed other political parties like the Congress and the SP for subtly playing communal politics and betraying Muslims.
Recently, the political stunt by right wing to polarize votes ahead of the assembly elections may have backfired. Till a while ago, the BSP was not considered to be a noteworthy player in the 2017 UP Assembly elections because it had a poor showing during the 2012 Assembly elections and did not fare well at the 2014 general elections as well. All eyes were on the BJP, after its huge mandate, thanks to the Modi wave back in 2014. Videos and reports of atrocities against Dalits and Muslims in the recent past at the hands of “gau rakshaks” at Una in Gujarat, Bisada in UP etc brought a huge change in the scenario providing space for the BSP to manoeuvre.
Her attack on the SP was that the current Uttar Pradesh government, despite tall claims about being saviours of Muslims, failed to protect them from the violent attacks from cow vigilantes. However her attack on the Congress was more specific for their historic soft Hindutva stand which indirectly helped BJP to expand their electoral influence. The role of Congress in creating and vitiating Ayodhya dispute was specifically mentioned. There were also references to heinous communal riots that happened in UP when Congress was the ruling regime. For eg, all those heinous riots that happened in 1980s- Moradabad, Meerut etc were referred.
Rajkumar, a political scientist with Delhi University and a reputed Dalit intellectual contextualizes Mayawati’s firebrand and sharp speeches against communalism in the larger social and political context of the country. “There is an increasing need for unity of Dalits and Muslims across the country because both of them are brutally attacked by cow nationalists. BSP is trying to build that alliance at the national level,” Rajkumar says.
Scholars like Rajkumar say BSP’s efforts to reach out to Muslims in UP would sent strong messages to Muslims at national level. “Even urban upper middle class Muslims in UP who are very loyal to SP are in doubt now. They know SP cannot fight BJP ideologically and politically. BSP is initiating several informal and formal meetings with several Muslim groups. I’m sure the upcoming assembly election in UP would witness the grand failure of militant Hindutva politics,” Rajkumar adds. Also, when BJP’s senior party member Dayashankar Singh abused BSP chief Mayawati it opened the pandora’s box revealing how upper caste individuals consider it their birthright to use vile language against lower caste people. The BJP’s anti-Dalit image got highlighted.
For the BSP, it is now only a matter of overcoming the hurdles in uniting the communities by wooing both the sections of the electoral, to bring them together against upper caste Hindu domination to consolidate its vote bank. The large scale rallies held at Agra, Allahabad, Azamgarh and Saharanpur – all districts with a large Dalit and Muslim population – point towards Mayawati’s intentions of working towards it.
All my recent visits to UP as well as interactions with a cross section of Muslims hint that they are getting frustrated with SP. There are also signs of increasing popularity of BSP among them. But the question is can Mayawati consolidate her increasing acceptance among Muslims and convert that to electoral gains? If she succeeds in that, her Saharanpur rally and speech could be historic.