The 2024 general elections are a year away, and political engineering is at its peak in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The darling of the moment is the Dalit. Every political party wants the Dalit on its side.

The Dalit vote is so wanted during election time because it is 20 percent of UP’s total population of almost 200 million. The Dalit is also called ‘untouchable’ and who has been sidelined to the lowest rung of the social ladder in a society that has planted the Brahmin as the superior most caste. All political parties want the Dalit vote but not the Dalit in the home or office.

Despite being the majority population, Dalits and people of other backward castes have been excluded from the fold of mainstream Hinduism. Very few Dalits hold top positions in public life in the country even today. For several thousand years they have been deprived of opportunities that could add more dignity to their life.

For the same reason and at different times in history, many Dalits have gravitated towards other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam.

Ever since Independence in 1947, the Congress had enjoyed almost interrupted power in UP. The Congress remains a pan national party where workers come from different walks of life. However, those in power within the party invariably belong to upper castes.

The lack of performance by the Congress eventually led to its downfall in UP in the 1990s. Thanks to provisions in the Indian Constitution, a growing awareness of Dalit rights was able to challenge the privileges enjoyed by Congressmen.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was founded by Kanshiram in 1984 and later led by Mayawati. The founder of the Samajwadi Party (SP) is Mulayam Singh Yadav. The BSP was born to favour the interest of the Dalits while the backward castes and minority groups formed the base of the SP.

Together the Dalits and the other backward castes like the Yadavs are half the population of UP. Add to this the vote of 20 percent Muslims and the coalition is unbeatable in numerical terms at least. However, the reality on the ground is that Dalits, other backward castes and Muslims are not united and they do not vote en bloc.

No Opposition Party Coalition in Sight

For the same reason it is unlikely that the different political parties opposing the ruling party in UP will ever come together. Although elections have been fought in the past in partnership with each other, there is little love lost between the Congress, BSP and the SP.

This is because the SP hates the Congress, the BSP hates both the Congress and the SP, and the Congress seems to have no clue as to who it hates or loves in UP any more.

The BSP and the SP hate each other because they were born around the same time to claim their share upon similar resources. Over time the two parties found themselves caught in a kind of vicious competition that they are unable to overcome in the interest of a fresh future.

This is why SP chief Akhilesh Yadav keeps calling the Congress and the ruling party two sides of the same coin. He perhaps means that both the Congress and the ruling party are dominated by upper caste people who don’t really care about providing economic equality or social justice to Dalits or to other backward castes like the Yadav. However, critics see Yadav’s SP as being Socialist only in name.

Both the BSP and the SP had replaced the Congress with the promise of a creative social justice program. Looking at the level of poverty, increasing violence and lack of opportunities for the people of UP that remains one of the most backward provinces of the country the BSP and the SP have not done any better than the Congress as far as providing progress and prosperity to the state is concerned.

It is the failure of the BSP and SP to come up with an economic agenda to improve the life of UP’s people that is responsible for the rise today of the right ruling party. The result is that the poor of the state including Dalits remain vulnerable to communal mobilisation by politicians.

Communalisation Of UP’s Politics

The ‘lower castes’ in UP crave social acceptance and economic improvement in their life.

The ruling party has stepped in with the promise to provide to the Dalit what its own leaders did not deliver. To win power in UP, the ruling party realised that it could not succeed with the support of only the upper caste.

It needed the vote, if not the company of the majority population of Dalits and other backward castes. Looking beyond the upwardly mobile non-Yadav and non-Jatav, the ruling party came to power by getting the poorer and marginalised sections of the backwards and Dalits, who were disappointed with the BSP and SP, to vote for it.

The poor and socially marginalised population was attracted to the idea of good governance and development for lower castes that the ruling party promised. The poor thought that the promise of a development project to improve their economic lot was a good idea.

Besides, the ruling party promised to make the Dalit a part of the Hindu identity.

The Dalit was told that the oppressor was no longer from the ‘upper caste’ but was the Muslim. The Muslim was the ‘other’ who was preventing the creation of a unified Hindu nation.

But a decade has already gone by and the poor have remained poor, the unemployed without earning while cruelty and violence against Dalits continues unabated in UP.

The Great Game

The strategy of the ruling party was to create a division between the Dalit population and Muslims, who together with members of other backward castes have been the main pillars of UP’s composite culture. Tension continues to be created between Dalits and Muslims by reinventing local heroes and ancient folk stories.

Similar divide and rule strategies have worked so far for the ruling party to win elections in the past. However, Mayawati seems to have woken up to the damage being done as she befriends Muslim leaders in the state. The BSP leader seems to be making an obvious effort to keep the Dalit and Muslim populations of the state united.

While Akhilesh Yadav recently flew to far away Telangana to update some outdated ideas of socialism practised by him. The Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao had played host to him along with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrival, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja.

Together, they had reminded each other of the spirit of the Constitution and reiterated their faith in secularism, socialism and liberty, promising the country an alternative way of politics that is development oriented and liberal.