The recent visit of BSP supremo Ms Mayawati in Bihar in an election campaign and her emphasis on “Sarvajan” rather than merely “Dalit Bahujan” impels me to make a revisit to dalit politics in both colonial and post colonial India. This is not to say that Mayawati’s politics is the sole representative of contemporary dalit politics in India, but since her politics excelled (in terms of realpolitik achievements) the other variants of dalit politics, we would justifiably treat her variant of politics as the flag-bearer of dalit politics in India. An overview of BSP style of politics shows that dalit-politics today has luxuries, privileges and successes it never had even during Ambedkar’s time. In the colonial era, Ambedkar, in spite of his innermost desire to address the caste Hindus (to use Ambedkar’s own word), found himself largely unheard as not only the Caste Hindus but even large chunks of untouchables had neither time nor will to hear Ambedkar as their time and will were both monopolized by the mainstream Congress and Gandhian politics. Ambedkar’s electoral defeat is testimony to the fact that Gandhi was of greater appeal even to the untouchables. This had nothing to do with Ambedkar’s statesmanship (which was second to none) but the reason for this was more objective, for instance, negligible size of the educated urban middle class amongst dalits. Apart from this, the second reason for the failure of Ambedkar’s statesmanship was ‘false consciousness’ prevailing among dalits i.e. dalits were, to use Marxian phraseology, ‘class-in-itself’ rather than ‘class-for-itself’. Although even the caste Hindus were no less in the grip of false consciousness but whereas the caste Hindus benefited (both psychologically and economically) from this, dalits were doubly disadvantaged as Hindu social order, by putting them into the lowest rung of society not only robbed them of material benefits but also demoralized them by linking hierarchical social order with divine will.
Coming back to the BSP style of politics, BSP, being predominantly a party of dalits, has the privilege today to not only make itself heard to the dalits but most importantly to the caste Hindus also. In the world of electoral politics, BSP, under the unchallenged leadership of Mayawati, picks and drops Brahmin candidates, makes and unmakes governments, spends tens of millions on constructing dalit symbols, wears (Mayawati) crown sitting on the throne while ensuring others (including Brahmins) be seated on the floor. Without going into the extent of appropriateness of these actions, one thing can be derived out of all this that dalit politics has never known before these privileges. Earlier the caste Hindus would choose and dump; now they get chosen and dumped at least in one state of Indian subcontinent.
A general criticism made against the BSP style of politics is that in order to reach out to the savarnas, BSP has compromised fundamentally with its dalit-bahujan ideology. Let us examine the merit of this argument. It must be made clear that BSP was not the first party or Mayawati the first person to talk about either dalit-bahujan or sarvajan. Way back in the colonial era Ambedkar talked more soundly about it. In the years of his political setbacks, Ambedkar emphasized that backward classes or Shudras could be the natural electoral ally of the depressed class but simultaneously Ambedkar never preached a social or political exclusion of the Brahmins. On the contrary Ambedkar was keen on separating Brahmins from Brahminism implying that Brahminism was an ideology and Brahmins are men obsessed with that ideology. This obsession is like a disease which can well be expected to be cured. Ambedkar has always emphasized on social cohesiveness and showed his deepest concern about how to strengthen the organic filaments of society and build up a healthy nation. This is primarily why Ambedkar maintained a conscious and safe distance from anti-Brahmin Dravidian movements.
It was much later during the last quarter of the 20th century when dalit movement was getting more and more militant that dalit-bahujan ideology (which was a peripheral element in Ambedkar’s ideology) became the core of dalit movement. Hence, to my own observation dalit-bahujan ideology which began to preach separatism and buffalo nationalism as an antithesis of cow nationalism is a marked deviation from Ambedkar’s own notion of one nation. In this light BSP’s transformation from an ideologue of dalit-bahujan to Sarvajan is a positive move which takes into account the entirety of society. This goes without saying that the middle class amongst dalits in UP has benefited considerably both materially and psychologically ever since BSP came into power. For the lack of space we would not go into the details of other accusations and criticisms made against BSP chiefly because they do not pertain to ideological lines. These criticisms (like political and financial corruption and so on) are common to every political party today without exception. The idea is not to derive a conclusion that Mayawati has succeeded where Ambedkar failed or Mayawati is a true representative of Ambedkar’s ideology or that Ambedkar’s dream of social transformation has come true. For neither of them has happened but what can be deduced out of all this is that at least BSP has delivered more to the middle class dalits of UP than any other political party has done to the same in any other state in India.