Now you see it
OR A PARTY that has been in office several times and holds a vote share of about 20 per cent, the BSP's prolonged absence from public action and visibility in UP, where the first phase of voting is scheduled for February 10, seems mysti- fying. On Wednesday, BSP chief Mayawati broke a long silence with her first major public meeting of the poll season in Agra and claimed that she has been busy plot- ting her party's electoral strategy. She blamed the media for writing off her party and claimed that it would spring a surprise when the votes are counted, as happened in the 2007 assembly election, when the BSP won a simple majority.
The fact is that the BSP's political model is different from other parties. It relies on its loyal base among the Jatavs, and works to add to this core vote by reaching out to other communities. The party has in the past made tactical alliances with Brahmins and Muslims, with mixed outcomes. The shift in focus, from the Bahujan Samaj, as conceived by party founder Kanshi Ram, to Sarvajan Samaj, has helped the party to expand beyond its niche and make itself acceptable to a broader cross-section of the electorate, but it has not proved to be enduring. At the same time, the party seldom undertakes street mobil- isations even on issues that impact Dalits. It was absent from the anti-CAA/NRC protests. and even from the public agitation that followed the rape and death of a Dalit woman in Hathras. However, this approach may be coming up against new challenges in times when the BSP's rivals, especially the BJP, see politics as a 24X7 activity and work themselves up into perpetual electioneering. With the rise of social media, old forms of political as- sociation are being tested and there is continuous political messaging on virtual plat- forms. Even among the Dalits, newer and younger voices have emerged who are more will- ing to mobilise on the ground rather than wait until elections. Parties such as the Bhim Army of Chandrasekhar Azad Ravan are no match for the BSP yet, but the rise of these outfits suggests a churn that could dent the prospects of the party that most successfully laid claim to represent the Dalits.
In the current scenario, the BSP's reticence in the public sphere in between elections, and its reliance on an air-tight, centralised model of decision-making within the party, has costs. As the only state where the party has managed to leverage its core vote to win power, UP is crucial to its survival. Another election defeat could marginalise the party even more in the state as well as in national politics.