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Inverted Pyramid: The New Power Equation

Saturday 26 May 2007, by ILAIAH*Kancha

The BSP has pulled off a coup by forging a Dalit-Brahmin axis. It presents a historic opportunity for Mayawati, and also poses a steep challenge, says Kancha Ilaiah

The victory of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with a simple majority on its own has deep implications for the Indian polity. First and foremost, it establishes that caste-based political mobilisation will work as an agency for transferring power from leaders who have belonged to the historically most powerful castes to those who belong to the most oppressed and suppressed. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision that caste, apart from being a socio-spiritual institution, is also a political and ideological institution, and that it needs to be attacked through political means, has been established with this election.

Through its long-term painstaking political mobilisation of the Dalits — who constitute the most oppressed of castes and communities — the BSP has proved that they can be transformed into a political bloc. In this endeavour, it was guided by Kanshi Ram’s formulation that the Dalits are in fact the base of the Bahujan Samaj. In the last 15 years or so, the BSP experiment established that the most oppressed castes should first form a political bloc and then look for an ally to capture power.

Mulayam was working in tandem with the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and other upper castes. Which is why Amar Singh, Amitabh Bachchan and many other upper-caste leaders are part of his team Kanshi Ram and Mayawati succeeded in establishing a Dalit political bloc in UP and they assumed that the OBCs would be their natural ally in their quest for power. But more or less at the same time, there emerged an OBC party, which transformed the Yadavs into a political bloc and roped in the Muslims and other OBC castes as their allies under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Samajwadi Party (SP) came into existence on the theoretical formulation of Ram Manohar Lohia that the lower castes are the earth and the upper castes the seeds and that they should work in co-ordination to change the system. Though Mulayam Singh led a predominantly Yadav party, he never took a strong anti-Brahmin stance like Kanshi Ram. Mulayam was working in tandem with the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and other upper castes. Which is why Amar Singh, Amitabh Bachchan and many other upper-caste leaders are part of his team.

Under the leadership of Mayawati, the BSP, while keeping its hold on the SCs, extended its alliance base to Brahmins who also constitute a large chunk of the UP electoral population. The UP Brahmins realised that their alliance with the bjp was not working successfully as the bjp’s communal agenda was making them a target:

the very same BSP characterised them as manuvadis and enemies of the Bahujan Samaj. But in the context of ground-level contradictions between the Dalits and the OBC farming communities, it thought that it could forge a friendship with the Brahmins who basically live as the urban middle-class.

It also seems to have realised that, in UP, as there emerged a strong OBC party under the leadership of Mulayam Singh, it would be better to ally with Brahmins and make them believe that they would get a real share in power. Though Mulayam and his party were not opposed to Brahmins, the Brahmin share in the power structure of his government was minimal.

The fact that Mayawati gave 93 seats to Dalits and 86 seats to Brahmins is enough indication that she really wanted to share power with them — but under her leadership Mayawati gave the Brahmins the most seats after SCs and hence they had every reason to trust her and vote for her party on an experimental basis. In terms of electoral arithmetic, the experiment has worked. The fact that she gave 93 seats to Dalits and 86 seats to Brahmins is enough indication that she really wanted to share power with them — but under her leadership. That is a significant enough Dalitist ideological anchor. We must now wait and see how that ideological anchor works in day-to-day power politics.

As the BSP leadership assessed, there is no immediate economic contradiction between them and the Brahmins — be it in the sphere of land-based productive activity or in the sphere of industrial and market-economy — while there is one between a section of OBCs and the Dalits. In UP, there is not much industrial economy to speak of and the market is also very weak. However, in the realm of bureaucratic power, there has been a contradiction between Brahmin bureaucrats and SC and ST bureaucrats.

Let us not forget that the SP was also depending on Brahmin bureaucrats, as there are not many OBC bureaucrats to lean on. In terms of rural violence and conflicts, there is not much Brahmin participation in day-to-day violence against Dalits and the lower OBCs. But the landed OBCs are involved in such violence and there are several areas of conflicts between the landed OBCs and the landless labouring Dalits.

Mayawati has now given up the concept of Bahujan Samaj and is talking about Sarvajan Samaj. The theoretical and practical problem with the concept of Sarvajan Samaj is that in the spiritual realm the Brahminic theoreticians used the concept Brahma and Loka with a sense of Sarvajan. But within that theoretical paradigm they justified caste system and untouchability as God-given and natural. There are a number of areas where the State needs to deal with the spiritual institutions wherein the Dalits have no place. The Brahmins, on the other hand, have a very dominant position in all such places. And we all know that caste was created by the Brahminic forces. They completely control the temple economy in Uttar Pradesh as well as the rest of India.

How does BSP handle this contradiction between Dalits who have not yet become Buddhists and who aspire for spiritual equality within Hinduism, and the Brahmins who want to control that sphere totally? If the BSP loses its focus on Dalits, they will also gradually lose interest in that party. For the first time, it has got a chance to rule the state for five years. Earlier, it ruled UP only for very short periods of six months in each term. The expectations of Dalits at the time were limited, based on BSP’s tenure of rule. Now they expect that some of their basic problems would be solved.

At the same time, the Brahmins also have some expectations. Because, for the first time they have aligned with Dalits and they will put forth their own socio-cultural demands. Though we will have to wait and see how Mayawati as a leader, and the BSP as a party, will address these questions, we can be sure that they will come up.

One good thing that has happened in this process is that the bjp has lost its mass base. It now cannot keep on raising the temple issue. If it raises it again, the same Brahmin representatives who once supported that issue will have to oppose it. One possibility is that a section of the OBCs may use the bjp platform to take away the temple agenda from the fold of Brahmins. UP has been showing such signs by throwing up several OBC Hindu saints who own Hinduism more aggressively than the Brahmins themselves. Since Kanshi Ram’s last rites were performed according to Buddhist tradition, now Mayawati will have to use his image next to that of Ambedkar, as a Buddhist. But what icons will she incorporate from the Brahminic society to satisfy her new allies? She has tried to create history by building the Ambedkar Park where only Dalit-Bahujan heroes have been valorised. Will the Brahmins not ask for their own park? Will they accept the historical images of all those statues installed in Ambedkar park?

Some social churning must have taken place during the election campaign. Both Dalits and Brahmins must have participated in public meetings addressed by Mayawati and other leaders. And that might have some impact on their behaviour towards each other. If that helps the Brahmins in de-Brahminising themselves, the UP society will show a different course of change. But when it comes to the attitudes towards religion, the Brahmins and Dalits will be poles apart. Now politics is expected to mediate between communities which have never seen eye to eye.

In the arena of governance, the issues of law and order, economic development, creating jobs and distributing them to satisfy the Dalit and Brahmin communities will be the main challenge before Mayawati. She is definitely the new political star to be watched. She is still young and energetic. These five years will decide her future and the future of Dalits in UP in particular, and India in general — at least in the realm of politics.

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