Under Mayawati, BSP is heading the dynastic way

Mayawati appointed her brother and nephew to top posts in the BSP

Mayawati's decision came as a blow to the prospects of an opposition grand alliance to take on the ruling BJP | AFP Mayawati's decision came as a blow to the prospects of an opposition grand alliance to take on the ruling BJP | AFP

The appointment of Mayawati’s brother and nephew to top posts in the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is viewed as a sign of the party chief’s crisis of confidence. Sarwan Ram Darapuri, a dalit activist who contested the recent election from the Robertsganj constituency, said, “Dynastic politics is not new to the country. Mayawati is following the path. Advancing age and a weak support base have spurred her on to protect the assets that belong to the party and to her. The results of this election have made it clear that the support she took for granted has shifted. She is taking desperate measures”.

On June 24, Mayawati announced the appointment of her nephew Akash Anand as the party’s national coordinator and her brother Anand Kumar as national vice president. The appointment of the former was not a complete surprise as her nephew had been at her side throughout the Lok Sabha campaign.

Ramveer Upadhyay, the party’s chief whip in the Vidhan Sabha, who was suspended a day before the announcement of the poll results, said Mayawati was treating the party as her personal fiefdom. “This is behenji’s party. She does as she feels like. People like me who worked hard for it have been removed. Some are being forced to leave. The larger coalition of castes that we had built is eroded."

Upadhyay, a member of the party since 1996 and a former minister, played a significant role in the party’s attempts to garner support among the Brahmins. He was suspended on May 22 for ‘anti-party’ activities.

From relying on just Chamar and Jatav dalit votes to the party’s expansion into upper caste votes, the BSP’s changing strategy has been amplified in its slogans. Thus from tilak, tarazu aur talwar, inko maaro joote char (whack the symbols of the upper castes), the party shifted to hathi nahin ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai
(this is not Lord Ganesha but an elephant, and thus the BSP symbol). “There was never a second rung of leadership in the party. With these appointments, it is clear that no dalit or other caste leadership will now be permitted to rise as the party struggles to find the right caste equations," said Upadhyay.

Mayawati, like her mentor and BSP founder Kanshiram, was critical of dynastic politics. Kanshiram’s journey to build a political movement for dalits was in complete isolation from his family. This was a disconnect so marked that Kanshiram did not even attend the funeral of his father in 1982. In 2004, as Kanshiram’s health dwindled, his family alleged that Mayawati was holding him captive and secured an order from the Delhi High Court to be able to see him.

Kanshiram’s family has since been critical of how Mayawati has handled the party. The non-dynastic nature of BSP’s politics has been part of its appeal as it grew from two seats in the Lok Sabha elections of 1989 to 20 in 2009. In the intervening elections, the party saw dips only in 1991 and 1998 when the number of seats it won were lesser than those it had in the previous elections. The party’s influence had, however, steadily grown. Thus, despite winning two seats less in 1998 (as compared to 1996), the party improved its vote share from 20.61 per cent to 20.90 per cent.

In 2014, the party saw its vote share fall below 20 per cent for the first time since 1996. It won no seats and its share of the votes came down to 19.77 per cent. In the recent elections, which the party fought with the Samajwadi Party, it won 10 seats. Post the results, Mayawati was quick to discard the alliance, blaming her alliance partner for an inability to transfer votes.

A senior BSP leader told THE WEEK that Akash Anand’s appointment could serve the party well. “His youth will appeal to the younger generation of dalits. The young do not have an emotional connect to the BSP or Mayawati’s struggle to claim political space”.

The impact of these developments will begin to unfold later this year when 11 Vidhan Sabha seats which have fallen vacant, as the incumbent MLAs have been elected to the Lok Sabha, will go to polls. Mayawati has announced her party's decision to fight these, and all subsequent elections, without any alliances.