Analysis

UP Polls: Muslim & Dalit Votes!

With Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections less than a year away, strong speculations and calculations are afoot regarding which party or coalition will head the next state government. The UP results are expected to play a crucial role in deciding the political fortunes of those contesting the 2014 parliamentary elections. Against the backdrop of Mayawati having taken over as the chief minister in 2007 with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) winning more than 200 seats, the crucial question bothering her rivals is whether they will succeed in pushing her out of power or not. It is with this intention that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is trying his best to win over the Dalit votebank. The political assumption guiding this strategy is that Dalit votes can be wooed away from Mayawati by him. And Rahul’s success in doing so can ensure Congress a good hold in UP, which is also expected to facilitate his entry on the national stage in a major way.

Rahul has undeniably received substantial media coverage in the efforts made by him to secure Dalits’ support in UP. This includes his having meal at a Dalit’s home and recent report about a group of Dalits having assured Rahul their support for Congress. But this is just one of the many complexities involved in UP elections. There is no doubt that Mayawati as chief minister of UP has given the state’s Dalits a new political confidence and also a major boost in their political identity. The key Congress leaders playing their part in ensuring success for their party in UP, including Rahul, Digvijay Singh and Rita Bahuguna belong to higher castes. Now can a Dalit be expected to identify himself with such leaders, politically and socially? It seems practically impossible. Also, compare this with strategies being used to woo the state’s Muslim voters.

On one hand, Salman Khurshid is assuring reservation for Muslims in a short period, on the other Digvijay Singh is making noises against the saffron brigade hoping that this will help Congress win over the state’s Muslims. Even though reservation-talk and comments against the saffron-brigade aren’t expected to have any appeal for the UP Muslims, at least they have some political value, though minimal. Certainly, Rahul having meal at a Dalit’s residence spells a lot of media-hype and some short-lived political importance for that particular Dalit family. It doesn’t carry as much political weight or appeal as that of a Dalit heading the UP government. Rahul’s strategy does not appear to carry any major political message for UP’s Dalit community as a whole. If Congress decides to project a Dalit as the state’s next chief minister, that may carry greater political importance for this community. But prospects of Congress projecting either a Dalit or even a Muslim candidate for this position may be dismissed as almost negligible. The explanation is simple. Congress is also bothered by nagging fear of losing Hindu votes, particularly high-caste ones. Here, it may be noted for 2007-polls, Mayawati played shrewd politics by giving importance to Muslims and high-caste Hindus in her political camp. She did so without being bothered by the fear of losing Dalit votes. She can play the same strategy again, though the end-result may not be a repeat of what she achieved in 2007.

Chances are that Congress may not succeed in creating a major dent in Mayawati’s Dalit vote bank. There is also the possibility of no major numerical change in her Muslim supporters, though their faces may change. If some decide to cease supporting her, new Muslim supporters from rival camps may join her party. And this game of changing sides is expected to pick up heat when parties take final decision on their candidates for the assembly seats. This may continue after the polls, if the results do not signal a decisive victory for any one party.

Notwithstanding all the noise made about Mayawati having done practically nothing for benefit of Muslims in UP, it cannot be missed that even during most tense-phases, she has kept the state free of communal conflict. Last year, when Allahabad High Court was scheduled to pronounce its judgment on Ayodhya-issue, the entire nation was gripped with tension, apprehending the possibility of communal riots taking place. Mayawati kept the situation in UP totally under control.

Some political murmurs are doing the rounds about Mayawati losing support of high caste Hindus. This development will be more clearly visible when the final list of BSP candidates is announced. The high-caste candidates fielded by BSP are likely to have chances of securing more votes than candidates of the same caste fielded by Congress. Had Mayawati been forced to face mid-term polls, it would have made sense to speculate on her party having lost ground in UP. This has not been the case. Against this backdrop, while Rahul’s campaign may increase number of seats for Congress in UP assembly, it is least likely to spell a major loss for BSP!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2011 on page no. 14

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