Mayawati's June 5, 2005, Brahmin conference in Lucknow had shocked the national Dalit intelligentsia. Stunned mainstream political analysts had dismissed that conference as a stunt to keep her Bahujan Samaj Party in media circulation for some time. Most thought the enigmatic Mayawati would never repeat it. Some predicted Maya's doom saying that the Dalits would desert the BSP en masse.
Nothing of that sort seems to have happened. Eighteen months have passed since her first Brahmin conference; Mayawati is pursuing her Dalit-Brahmin thesis more aggressively -- organising Brahmin conferences all over Uttar Pradesh. Cheered by the predominantly Dalit audience, a host of Brahmin leaders can be seen speaking in rallies organised by the BSP. Having garnered a lion's share in ticket distribution, Brahmin candidates are already on the campaign trail. In Maya's assessment, Dalits have accepted her Brahmin-Dalit thesis.
Now we must ponder over two very critical questions -- why would Maya abandon the BSP's ideological plank of Bahujanwad, and why would the Dalits of UP unhesitatingly embrace the Brahmin-Dalit thesis? In other words, by her abrupt ideological U-turn, has Mayawati decoded a certain social current which the nation's intelligentsia had no clue about at all?
For the record, Dalits constitute 21 per cent of UP's population. In the state's 2002 assembly elections, the BSP garnered 23.06 per cent of the popular vote and won 98 seats. In the parliamentary elections two years later, the BSP garnered 24.67 per cent of the popular vote, and won 19 seats. In the 1992 parliamentary elections, the BSP had garnered 22.08 per cent of the popular vote, and won 14 seats. In the 1996 assembly elections, the BSP garnered 19.64 percent votes, and won 67 seats.
In other words, during the last four elections, the BSP's vote share in UP hovered around 21 per cent (which is equal to the Dalit vote base), though the BSP never claimed to be a party of Dalits alone. Since its birth in 1984, the BSP has espoused the cause of the Bahujans [SC/STs/OBCs/minorities] and deployed the metaphor of 85 per cent versus 15 per cent -- meaning that the 85 per cent Bahujans ought to join hands to capture power from the 15 per cent Dwijas. The BSP's Bahujanwad can be safely described as one of the biggest ideology driven mass campaigns contemporary India has witnessed. The late Kanshi Ram invested his entire life advocating Bahujanwad, but neither OBCs nor the minorities embraced Kanshi Ram or his Bahujanwad. Mayawati too had been at the forefront of spreading Bahujanwad for over two decades.
Arguably, Mayawati arrived at a conclusion that the 21 per cent Dalit vote base was inadequate to install her party in UP's political power structure, and that she needed to add another social bloc. But why only Brahmins -- who in the Dalits' collective imagery, are the historical fountainhead of India's vicious social order?
It does not need any great sociologist to acknowledge the fact that Brahmins have become virtual political untouchables in the Gangetic belt. Overwhelmed by the rise of the OBCs, Brahmins have become social orphans. Isolated politically, with their near 10 per cent population base in UP, Brahmins were waiting to be taken as an influential vote bank. To escape their growing political irrelevance, UP's Brahmins found a new opportunity in Maya's call to join hands with the Dalits. It is therefore pretty easy to decipher the Brahmins' political predicament.
Should the BSP surpass its 24.67 per cent vote share -- the best ever for the party -- in the 2004 parliamentary elections, or add more to its 98 seat tally the party had won in the 2002 assembly elections, then Mayawati would have decoded changing India's social undercurrents. Unexplored as yet, several blocs are clamoring for new social contracts. Nitish Kumar's adoption of MBCs (most backward classes) in the 2005 Bihar assembly election is a classic case of readjusting newer social contradictions.
In an adventurous move, Mayawati seems to have dived deep into the Dalits' sleeping consciousness. The modern-day Dalit consciousness has evolved into a battleground of contradictions. The awake, evident and articulate consciousness is pre-determined by history. It questions and confronts injustices meted out on the Dalits. It resolves to dismantle the Brahminical caste order and systems of exclusion. The Brahmin is perceived, quite legitimately, as the author and vehicle of the vicious caste order. The Brahmin, therefore, along with his worldview, culture, and dominance, ought to be defeated -- in favour of a new, egalitarian and human social order. This is the Dalit ideology.
The sleepy, introverted and unreflective consciousness is aspirational and futuristic. It seeks a good life and calls for desegregation. The arenas of good lives are controlled by the Brahmin-led Dwijas -- the twice-born. The Brahmin, therefore, inadvertently though, has transformed into a positive point of reference. The aspiration therefore pushes Dalits into Brahmins' homes. Whenever accomplished Dalits -- civil servants, doctors, engineers -- marry outside their caste, the bride is least unlikely to come from any of the Dalit sub-castes -- the bride will in all probability be a Brahmin. Somewhere Dr Ambedkar's marriage to Dr Savita, a Brahmin, keeps reverberating in the Dalit consciousness.
The conflict between ideology and aspirations is severe. By aspiration, Dalits seek an entry into the Brahmin led-Dwija world. Why should Dalits demand government jobs -- a world dominated by Brahmins? Why should Dalits demand affirmative action in the private sector, a world dominated by Vaishyas-Brahmins? Why should Dalits demand representation in the media -- a world dominated by Brahmins-Kayasths? 'As a matter of right,' says the Dalits' publicly known consciousness-ideology. Doesn't this 'matter of right' ideology push Dalits under the sure domination of Brahmins as the newer areas of aspiration are predominantly Brahmin-controlled?
The first generation empowered Dalits created three 'Dalit housing societies' in and around Delhi. In less than a decade, over 30 per cent of the Dalit owners moved out. For sure, the accomplished Dalits would avoid getting into yet another 'all Dalit hamlet'. Historically, Dalits are condemned into inhabiting separately. Hence, the accomplished Dalit would prefer buying a flat in the Brahmin-led housing complex. The yet to be accomplished Dalits aspire for similar pattern, desegregate and enter the Brahmin world.
While crafting her Brahmin-Dalit thesis, Mayawati may not have calculated all these tendencies. As a true disciple of Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has lived with the thinking of Dalits for over two decades. Meeting with hundreds of Dalits daily, she somehow figured that her Dalits in UP will gladly accept Brahmins as political co-travellers. In that, Mayawati seems to have approached the sleepy, introverted and unreflective consciousness of Dalits.
Often, during a conflict between ideology and aspiration, the latter tends to overwhelm the former. Mayawati seems to have captured the unspoken and unseen Dalit consciousness splendidly. Dalits are seeking a new social contract -- this time at the initiative of the Dalits themselves, and on their own terms and conditions. Mayawati has taken a lead in refashioning a new social synthesis.
Chandra Bhan Prasad is a noted Dalit activist and columnist