Bania maaf, Brahmin saaf, Thakur Half

Brahmin Bania Thakur chor, baaki sab hai DS4

Tilak, Taraju, Kalam, Talwar, maro inko jootey chaar

Vote hamara, Raj tumhara? Nahi chalega, nahi chalega!”

When the Dalit Movement 2.0 was launched by a former sarkari babu of DRDO, these were some of the sample slogans that he bequeathed to the Dalits of early 80s India. The big shift from an Ambedkarite Dalit social psyche that Kanshi Ram envisaged had a core confrontationist constituency which was so emblematic of the violent 80s with a million mutinies raging everywhere. The rebellion that Kanshi Ram proposed as a fuel to carry the Dalit bogey into the heartland of India proved to be one of the greatest political successes of the last decade of 20th century.

Kanshi Ram is arguably India’s most underrated political leader/thinker of the latter half of 20th century. He understood the historic limitations of Gadar movements’ in the political landscape of a nation that is built on the Jugad principle. After all the idea of India is nothing but a compromise between regions, religions, languages, castes and ethnicity.

History bestows greatness to men as an afterthought. True greatness is acquired through the legacy that a leader leaves behind and not just by the kind deeds of his lifetime or merely the accident of his birth. Truest legacy of a great leader is mostly in the human form, in the form of other leadership that a true leader begets.

Ambedkar’s greatest legacy is the constitution of India, but his greatest drawback was to leave the Dalit movement in India utterly leaderless after his demise. Kanshi Ram’s greatest legacy are neither the rebel slogans nor his life long struggle against Dalit oppression nor his act of liberating the Dalit vote-bank from the clutches of Congress tokenism (at least in important parts of northern India). His greatest legacy is Mayawati.

Mayawati embodies the historically suppressed Dalit hunger for power at any cost. She is the very antithesis of ‘untouchability’, for she is possibly the only leader in India who can align with anybody from the extreme left to the extreme right (and everything in between) and yet manage to emerge unscathed from the artificial secular-communal divide. She is the ultimate symbol of Indian political jugad.

When Mayawati made a horribly half-baked and hideously half-hearted attempt of occupying the prime minister’s chair in 2009 and failed miserably, most political pundits were quick enough to write an epitaph on another generation of Dalit aspirations for the country’s top job. Furthermore, after the route of BSP in the 2012 assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh, it was widely argued that the heartland’s tryst with Dalit politics had ended prematurely. Indeed, many opinion poll surveys and electoral analysts (including yours truly) had started to decode signals of BSP’s tremendous decline in UP. Most of us have made the classic error of underestimating Mayawati’s glorious resilience.

In the last few weeks and months as the Akhilesh Yadav led SP government of five and a half chief ministers kept on evolving from one riot to the next, many UP observers were quick to conclude that the resultant polarization would eventually benefit the right-wing BJP. The reality of moffusil Uttar Pradesh is unfortunately a multi-headed beast that manages to defeat punditry every time.

One of the most analyzed but least understood paradigms of Uttar Pradesh’s electoral realities is the Muslim vote. Since 1999, when the Hindu vote of UP was finally divided hopelessly along caste lines, the primary factor of each and every election has been the Muslim vote. For all practical purposes it is the Muslim vote that decides who emerges victorious in UP. In order to understand this reality let us try and bust three urban legends of our times.

Myth 1: Mayawati won the 2007 mandate because of the incremental vote of Brahmins and upper castes and also consequently lost the 2012 elections because the Brahmins abandoned her.

Reality 1: The sole reason for BSP’s success in 2007 was that a big section of Muslims voted for the party, whereas there was neither substantial addition nor desertion of the Brahmin/upper-caste vote in 2007 or 2012 respectively.

Myth 2: Congress emerged as the number one in UP in the 2009 LS polls because of gains across the caste religion lines, especially among upper catses.

Reality 2: The sole reason for the Congress’ success in 2009 was the incremental Muslim vote, while all other votes remained unchanged.

Myth 3: SP got an incremental vote of other OBCs and even a section of Thakurs and upper castes in 2012, therefore it emerged victorious.

Reality 3: SP’s huge success in 2012 was due to and only due to the MY combination of Muslims and Yadavs. No incremental vote from other sections were added to its tally in 2012 as compared to 2007. For instance, almost 80% of the 21% odd Muslim vote and 90% of the 6% odd Yadav vote went into the SP kitty in 2012 – which meant a gross of about 23% total vote-share. Even in the 2007 elections, SP had a share of about 4 to 5% among the non-Yadav, non-Muslim vote, due to local factors like candidate selection. Thus, SP hardly added about 1 percentage point to its vote-share of “others” in 2012. The shift was purely and solely in the Muslim vote from BSP to SP from 07 to 12.

[Note: The core-votes of BJP – upper castes, BSP – SC, SP – Yadavs (+50% Muslims) and Congress – a section of Kurmis and Dalits has remained unchanged throughout this tumultuous period. The only shifting vote has been that of Muslims which has acted as the incremental factor.]

Last month’s Muzaffarnagar riots will prove to be the turning point for 2014 elections. When we talk of polarization along religious lines in UP in general terms, we tend to generally miss the hidden nuances. The difference between the polarization of Hindu vote and the Muslim vote is that the former is vulnerable to sub-regional counter pressures, whereas the latter has pan-regional tendencies. Empirical evidence from elections of the last 2-3 decades bear testimony to such a differential factor.

Yes, there is polarization in western UP. The Hindu vote, represented by majorly Jats in this region, is looking towards BJP with increasing interest and the party should prepare itself for a rich haul of MPs in west UP akin to the mid-90s proportions. The counter-polarization is interesting, for the Muslims too blame the SP government for their riot travails and are shifting their allegiance to BSP overwhelmingly (it must be noted that BSP was always strong in this region, especially among Muslim voters). The Muslim vote is then moving some, beyond western UP, through whispers and Friday sermons and Urdu media and assorted intelligentsia, it is silently taking a vow to teach a lesson to Mulayam and his horribly incompetent son. Unfortunately, the Muslim of UP is severely handicapped for choices, for he also has the burden of stopping Modi’s race to Dilli on his debilitated shoulders (literally and metaphorically).

It is in this scenario that some deft moves were being made by the Congress party managers in an attempt to build an alliance with the BSP. A Congress-BSP alliance would potentially provide a platform for the Muslim voters to once again shift allegiance in 2014. Unfortunately, these discussions for an alliance seemed to have met a premature death when Maya apparently refused to give away even the political space that realistically belonged to the Congress party. This breakdown of talks was alluded to when Rahul Gandhi made his by now hilariously infamous “Escape Velocity” speech and attacked Mayawati’s politics.

The machinations in UP are far deeper than what meets the eye. Apparently, a section of the ‘secular intelligentsia’ and Dalit ideologues are working overtime to bring together the Congress party and the Dalit czarina in a grand nationwide alliance. What is intriguing is that two former Sangh strategists are allegedly playing a stellar role in creating this huge alliance – one of them overtly and the other more covertly. Although such an alliance would render the Congress party vulnerable in many parts of India, especially as regards to its Dalit vote-bank nurtured since the pre-independence era, it is being argued that defeating NaMo is the bigger cause of today. The electoral mechanism that is being worked out involves letting Mayawati capture a rich haul of 60+ MP seats nationwide (with 40+ coming from UP alone) and then letting her build a third front alliance supported by the Congress party. In the eventuality that the Congress party loses heavily in the upcoming assembly elections, such an alliance is said to be the only face-saver for the party in 2014, when its tally might very well go into the double digit territory. Ostensibly, Rahul Gandhi and his core team of advisors are totally sold on the idea of projecting a Dalit PM for India as the only answer to upset the OBC applecart of Modi.

Of course, most of this might sound fantastic today, but don’t be surprised if the other ‘M’, completely written off just a few months ago, manages to emerge as the real PM in waiting for 2014. As for BJP, well, this opportunity is in danger of going down as another defeat from the jaws of victory, in the long continuing Hindu tradition of betrayal from within. Kanshi Ram, that great political thinker of the previous century, might be laughing in his grave and uttering “Vote Humara, Raj Tumhara? Nahi Chalega, Nahi Chalega!”

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Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.