The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been found napping in recent times. However, last week the BSP chief Mayawati stepped out of her palatial residence like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes to make two announcements.

The former Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh (UP) announced the suspension of parliamentarian Danish Ali from the BSP for “anti-party” activities, and declared nephew Akash Anand her political successor.

According to Dr Ravi Kant, a Dalit and assistant professor of Hindi at the Lucknow University, Ali’s suspension is a message for all Muslim supporters of the BSP that they are now on their own. That the BSP is washing its hands off the responsibility of helping the Muslim electorate to realise its dream of a more secure and safe life in UP.

Mayawati suspended Ali one day after the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee called for the expulsion of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mahua Moitra from Parliament. The Committee had found Moitra guilty of unethical conduct during its probe into the cash-for-query allegations against her. Ali was a member of the committee, along with five other Opposition party parliamentarians but he had objected to the “undignified and unethical” questions put to Moitra.

Ali had also walked out of the Lok Sabha proceedings along with other opposition members to protest the expulsion of Moitra while other BSP members had remained seated in Parliament.

The position taken by Ali had naturally annoyed the ruling party. But Mayawati was upset as well, only adding fuel to fire that the BSP is intimidated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Mayawati is afraid to go against the politics of the BJP. She is also afraid of alienating the Dalits if she joins the BJP,” Kant told The Citizen.

To what extent Mayawati is attracted to the BJP is something only she knows. What is clear is that Mayawati has become increasingly impatient with her Muslim supporters. After having lost the last state elections she had openly blamed the Muslims for the defeat of the BSP.

She had chided Muslim voters for having shifted to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in order to defeat the BJP. She was certain that the Dalit votes had come to her, but not the Muslim votes.

The fact is that a large number of Dalits no longer support the BSP. Dalits are disappointed with Mayawati for not speaking up for their cause and for not taking to the streets in support of Dalits who are wronged daily in UP.

The state’s Dalit community of 20 percent is one of the most backward in the country. A 2022 survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that only 23 percent of non-Jatav Dalits voted for the BSP in 2022, down from the 44 percent in 2017.

In 2007, nearly 71 percent of Valmikis had voted for the BSP, but only 42 percent did in 2012. In 2007 the percentage of Jatav voters for the BSP was 86 percent but in 2012 it was down to 62 percent.

In 2017 the percentage of Jatavs voting for the BSP was 87 percent and in 2022 it was reduced to 65 percent. In 2022 Muslim support for the BSP was just six percent due to the perception that Mayawati was attracted to the BJP.

However, even in the best of times less than 50 percent of Muslims had voted for the BSP. Only 17 percent of Muslims had voted for the BSP in 2007, some 20 percent in 2012 and 19 percent in 2017.

In more recent times Muslim voters felt that the BSP was taking them for granted. The BSP had organised grand events for the upper castes in Ayodhya, Prayagraj and Mathura but there was no special outreach towards the Muslims. Today, Muslims feel that their contribution within the party is no longer appreciated by the BSP.

Last September, Ali was targeted by the ruling party member Ramesh Bidhuri in parliament and Mayawati had remained quiet. Ali was showered with unparliamentary language and Bidhuri had called him a “terrorist” but the BSP leadership said nothing.

“Instead of standing by Ali, instead of making him feel wanted, Mayawati ignored the communal slurs and insults showered upon Ali by a ruling party parliamentarian. Instead of providing Ali support she expelled him from the party! Why?” Lucknow-based social activist Tahira Hasan asked.

According to Hasan the BSP has not given any reason or an example of any anti-party behaviour on the part of Ali. It is believed that Ali’s public support to Moitra had upset the party leadership.

In the suspension letter addressed to Ali, BSP national general secretary Satish Chandra Misra said that several times Ali was asked verbally to not act and make any statement against the policies, ideology and discipline of the party.

“But despite that, you are continuously acting against the party,” Misra wrote in a two page letter. It is obvious that the BSP does not approve of the I.N.D.I.A alliance of opposition parties and was annoyed with Ali when he met the Bihar CM Nitish Kumar last August.

Ali’s strength are the people of Amroha, his constituency that is dominated by Muslims and Dalits. Ali had received 51 percent of the votes in the last national elections to defeat the sitting BJP parliamentarian Kunwar Singh Tomar by a margin of over 63,000 votes.

Since moving to the BSP, Ali had emerged as the minority face of the BSP in national politics. An active parliamentarian, his record of attendance in parliament is 98 percent and his participation in debates more than the national average.

Ali told the media that he found Mayawati’s decision to expel him unfortunate. “I have never engaged in any kind of anti-party activities. The people of Amroha are witness to this. I have opposed the anti-people policies of the BJP government and will continue to do so… If doing this is a crime, then I have committed this crime, and I am ready to face the punishment for it,” Ali said.

Ali’s exit from the BSP is bound to affect the party’s prospects in West UP in the next Lok Sabha elections. Earlier the BSP had expelled Imran Masood, another Muslim from the Saharanpur district, sending an unfriendly signal to the voters of the entire West UP region of Saharanpur, Meerut, Moradabad, Bareilly, Aligarh and Muzaffarnagar.

Both Masood and Ali are in touch with the Congress and appreciative of the I.N.D.I.A alliance of the opposition parties. Professor Kant sees this is a golden opportunity for the Congress and the SP to welcome these grassroot politicians in their midst.

“But the attitude of the opposition parties is so pathetic today. There is no vision. Their political performance is dismal, so slow and lethargic that many Dalits and minorities feel politically orphaned. They don’t know who to turn to for political leadership,” Kant said, adding that Dalit and Muslim voters stand at the cross roads due to the incompetence of the main opposition parties like the Congress and the SP.

Dalits and Muslims together account for 38.5 percent of UP's population which is more than enough to give any party a solid support in any election. Nursing the traditional vote bank is in the interest of all political parties that want to defeat the BJP.

However, does Mayawati even want to see the BJP defeated, is the question. Mayawati has made it clear that she will not join any alliance and the BSP will contest the 2024 general elections independently.

Several decades ago Kanshiram, Mayawati’s mentor, began his politics with only the good of Dalits in mind. Mayawati broadened the Dalit agenda of the BSP around 1995 to include Muslims and Other Backward Castes (OBCs).

When the BSP had contested state elections in 1993 with the SP), a party of OBCs, it had made political sense. However personal rivalries had destroyed the coalition in 1995.

After that the BSP grabbed power in alliance with the BJP, a party dominated by upper caste people and not favoured by the Dalit community at large. The alliance with the BSP had strengthened the BJP at the grassroots.

Ever since, the mandate of the BSP has been tilting towards the ‘upper castes’, and away from the bahujan or the majority of the Dalit population, forgetting Ambedkar’s warning that Dalits have two enemies. One is Brahmanism and the other is Capitalism and Dalits should never compromise with either of them.

Watching their leaders blatantly practise politics of opportunism is most depressing for the Dalit voter. Lucknow-based Dalit student leader Lalu Kannaujia said that Mayawati is living in political wilderness and it is sad that she is not clear in what she wants to do.

“Mayawati’s lack of vision is confusing us. She is misleading all of us and none of us know what to do. Under her leadership, the BSP has wandered far away from the mandate given to the party by Kanshiram to follow in the footsteps of Ambedkar,” Kannaujia regretted.

Today, the BSP’s profile looks no different from any other political party and its priority is reduced to more money and muscle power over policies that benefit the poor.

It is this legacy of wealth and power that Mayawati wants to preserve and which leads us to the importance of the second important announcement made by her. Last Sunday, Mayawati had declared nephew Anand her political successor.

According to the author of ‘Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati’, Ajoy Bose, Mayawati continues to play a pivotal role in the politics of UP. “Mayawati certainly hasn't retired from active politics. Significantly Behenji will continue to look after UP which is her party's main political arena,” Bose told The Citizen.

Mayawati has named her nephew Anand as political heir to basically give a young look to a jaded, fading party, Bose felt. It is also to counter the 37-year-old Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad and his Bhim Army.

Azad has tried, in fits and starts, to revive the Dalit movement in Western UP but he has a long way to go to replace the BSP. But Azad has more political experience than Anand.

“Anand is quite inexperienced and a political novice. He has none of the native cunning and fire that his aunt showed when she was young. Most importantly he does not have a political genius like Kanshiram to mentor him,” Bose added.

Kannaujia finds Azad’s politics too raw and aggressive. “The world of the Dalits dreams of a more kind and gentle path towards social justice,” Kannaujia said.

The BSP was born as a socio-political people's movement by Dalit leader Kanshiram and eventually led in UP by Mayawati. But for the past many years Behenji and the party has got disconnected from Dalits in particular and people in general.

This makes the Dalit community in UP feel very disheartened. BSP supporters are pained to watch Mayawati’s aura diminish. Along with her the hopes of Dalits to regain dignity and prosperity from centuries of oppression and exploitation seems to go up in smoke as well.

Hasan pointed out that founder of the BSP Kanshiram’s struggle was to fulfil the dream of BR Ambedkar and to provide social justice to the Dalit community. It was to safeguard the Constitution, of which he was the chief architect. “Mayawati has failed to carry that legacy of Ambedkar into the future. The BSP is in shambles,” Hasan said.

The BSP may continue to do politics in the name of Ambedkar but it stands poles apart from Ambedkar’s thinking. Ambedkar’s concern was to make sure that the depressed class of people are not excluded from the development process.

Earlier, the BSP government had focused on social benefits for the Scheduled Castes. However most of these policies were short-lived and fell by the wayside.

Politically the BSP had succeeded in reaching the highest office of power in UP when large buildings, monuments and statues were installed, but not much was achieved on the socio-economic front. Despite decades of wait, it is still not clear when the pomp and show will end and when the Dalits will have the kind of life that they deserve.

The BSP’s disheartening defeat in the elections in recent times shows that its vote base has shrunk. It is not just Muslim voters, and voters from the Most Backward Classes (MBC) that have turned their back on the party, but Dalits have also moved away from Mayawati.

Dr Mohammad Aqib, member Azad Samaj Party (ASP) National Core Committee and UP General Secretary told The Citizen that the disappointment of Dalits in Mayawati’s leadership has led them, along with the Muslim voters in parts of western UP, to look up to Azad.

“The ASP is determined to realise the dream of the Dalit leader late Kanshiram. The plight of Dalits and Muslims in UP remains pathetic because this population is deprived of political power,” Aqib said.

According to him, Dalit’s interests have been betrayed by Mayawati’s BSP. Aqib is quick to remind that Kanshiram had founded the BSP to empower the Dalit community that has been pushed to the periphery of society for thousands of years.

Kanshiram had appointed Mayawati his political heir because he had believed that this Dalit woman would work in the interest of her community. Over time Mayawati used the Dalit vote to enjoy political power but the socio-political and economic condition of a majority of Dalits has not improved.

Today, it appears that the BSP favours ‘upper caste’ people with money and muscles, instead of increasing the representation of Dalits within the BSP. To win elections, the BSP seeks the help of the ‘upper caste’ Brahmin community.

The latest formula of the BSP is not in the interest of the ‘bahujan’ (majority) samaj but of the ‘sarvjan’ (upper caste) samaj. The agenda of the ASP is to correct this wrong practice of the BSP.

As ASP chief, Azad wants to ‘rescue’ Kanshiram’s ideals from Mayawati. According to ASP members, Mayawati is attracted to Hindutva and Hindu nationalism. This then means the continuing oppression of the Dalits by the ‘upper castes’, who are a numerical minority but are in possession of unaccountable economic, political and social power.

“Under the circumstances and the path that Mayawati has chosen to steer the BSP, I don’t think the appointment of Akash Anand as her political heir will do any good for the Dalits.

“The agenda of the ASP is realistic as Azad travels into the UP heartland to increase membership and to build a cadre of workers on ground zero. Azad is a politician who has no time for Hindu nationalism today,” Aqib said.

To Anand’s feigned ignorance about him, Azad had concluded last August that Anand was “arrogant”, and “unaware of the reality on the ground”.

However, senior journalist and one of the founders of the BSP, Syed Qasim likened the responsibility given to 28 year-old Anand to spread BSP’s work nation-wide, to a crown of thorns. “A great responsibility to win over the youth of the nation”, said Qasim on his YouTube news channel ‘Rajpath’.