New Delhi: The Samajwadi Party victory in the by-polls to the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies is being attributed to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) decision to lend support to SP candidates. The Mayawati-led BSP does not contest by-elections but had declared its support for arch-rival SP, forging a joint opposition against the formidable Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mayawati had made clear that the BSP’s support to the SP is limited to only these by-polls. Yet the results indicate that the BSP still has the firepower to get its core vote base, comprising Dalits and minorities, to transfer its votes the way party supremo Mayawati wants.
The Wire spoke to Sudhindra Bhadoria, BSP’s national spokesperson, about the party’s strategies ahead of the 2019 general elections, whether this alliance will have a longer future, and much more.
Excerpts from the interview:
First question, what do you make of the by-election results?
It is clear that people of this country as well as in Uttar Pradesh see the [Narendra] Modi-led BJP government as trying to bring in an anti-Dalit, anti-minority, anti-OBC and anti-poor political agenda. They know that this agenda will destroy the social fabric of our country.
Secondly, it is a mandate against the BJP, whose leaders have been saying that their party wants to change the constitution of India. The constitution is held so close to the hearts of the poor in India because it is the only thing that guarantees their empowerment. Lastly, behen Mayawatiji showed her magnanimity. She had resigned from Rajya Sabha because she was not allowed to speak on the increasing incidents of atrocities against Dalits – be it Una, Saharanpur and so on. She told people that enough is enough, and took the important decision to bring together all forces who believe in the constitution and the secular fabric of this country.
It is being said that the SP’s candidates won because the BSP transferred its core votes to them. If that had not happened, the results would have been different.
That is for you guys to analyse, but let me say this. When we contested separately, the BJP’s votes were much higher than any of the other parties, both in the 2014 parliamentary polls and 2017 assembly elections. But once you combine BSP-SP, under the leadership of behen Mayawatiji and Akhilesh Yadav, then people will show their political inclinations clearly, as is reflected in the by-poll results. See, people opt for a front that is credible and is in a position to win. Look at the poor performance of the Congress, which fought alone. People did not see it as a force at all.
This also means that the BSP’s core vote strength is intact, unlike what is being made out in a section of the media.
We polled 23% in 2014 and SP polled 22% in 2014. People have a sense of the proportion of our strength; they want a stable, long-term socio-economic agenda. They have made this clear by defeating the BJP comprehensively and putting their faith in us.
We all know that the BSP doesn’t fight by-elections. Yet it declared its support for SP’s candidates in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. Do you see a larger alliance in the making ahead of the 2019 parliamentary polls?
You see, we are passing through very difficult times in Indian politics. Behen Mayawati ji, our party national president, has often made it very clear in her statements that there is a serious challenge to the constitution of India. There have been huge attacks on the rights and dignity of Dalits. Similarly, the attacks have increased on women, poor OBCs and minorities, particularly Muslims. The obscene statements from the BJP leadership have only made it clear that the party believes that the whole nation is made for only those who belong to a certain school of thought, the rest do not figure in the system.
In a democratic system, and more particularly, for those who firmly believe in the constitution of India, as written and interpreted by India’s founding fathers, it is very clear that the philosophy of co-existence would guide Indian values: freedom and liberty for all. But we are witnessing serial attacks on people who follow the ideas of Babasaheb (B.R. Ambedkar). The attacks are a part of a design.
They (BJP activists) are trying to destroy even the symbols, for example, Babasaheb’s statues. They have attacked other such statues as well. For example, Lenin’s statue in Tripura. We do not believe in Marxism, communism but of late there are many such attacks on those who follow that ideology.
These are certain examples where I am trying to say that our constitution is under attack. Those who follow ideals other than that of the BJP-RSS are under attack. So, there is a need for new experiments. Behen Mayawatiji’s initiative should be seen in this light.
However, I must clarify that this is just a first step. The support of the BSP to SP’s candidates was with a limited objective – that we have to consolidate the votes of all such forces which are against the BJP and that is how we can save secularism and the constitution of India.
But do you think the by-poll results will make the opposition parties think of a long-term alliance more seriously?
There is a possibility of a broader alliance, but the final call will be taken by behen Mayawatiji, depending on how serious other parties are about defending the constitution and secular principles.
If at all the alliance happens, will the party workers of the BSP and SP come together on the ground?
Well, they have shown it in Phulpur and Gorakhpur. Our party workers have shown that they can come together when political circumstances demand camaraderie.
So as far as the BJP is concerned, both the SP and BSP are on the same side. How does the BSP assess the Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh?
Let me make it clear that both Modiji and Yogiji do not believe in what they promised to people prior to the elections. For them, what they say before elections are jumlas. That is why you see, in Gorakhpur alone, over 1,000 children died because of a lax health department. Similarly, we saw how the Dalits of Saharanpur were mistreated, beaten up and also killed by supporters of the BJP. Again, in Kasganj, we saw how minorities were attacked.
Yogiji’s government has failed because the BJP believes in this philosophy of hate. That is why before the by-polls, they were bringing in the debate of Aurangzeb raj. I mean what has Aurangzeb got to do with these elections? It is almost similar to how Modiji had said before the parliamentary polls that the political contest is between shamshaan (crematorium) and kabristan (graveyard), Diwali and Eid.
They use these as symbols to polarise people, and this is a very dangerous trend. This needs to be fought. Behen Mayawatiji’s initiative should be seen in this light.
So you think the same about the Union government? What is the BSP’s overall assessment of it?
We have seen that after 2014, when Modiji became the prime minister, prior to that he had made certain promises to the nation: that he will solve the problem of unemployment, create two crore jobs for the youth every year. That would have, of course, been a big milestone. Similarly, he promised to bring the black money back to India, put Rs 15 lakh in every account. For the farmers, he said that he will ensure that their incomes are doubled and that he will see to it that the minimum support prices of crops are 50% more than the input cost.
On all counts, we saw that it has failed. They have betrayed the people of the country. This should definitely be seen as a betrayal of the mandate given to them. Of course, the poor, women, Dalits and OBCs have stood by the BSP in all odd situations.
The BSP was the third-largest party in terms of vote share even in 2014. After the BJP and the Congress, no other political party was close to us. In the 2017 assembly elections, in spite of the fact that we lost to the BJP, we finished as the second-largest party in UP. We got 23%, SP got 22% and the Congress 7%.
The BSP, therefore, is a very important political, social force. Our assessment of the Modi government is that secularism is under an unprecedented threat. Their ministers are making derogatory statements against Dalits and minorities. The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has said that the constitution needs to be reframed. He has also been saying that the reservation policy for Dalits and Adivasis should be now altered. This was a promise made to the nation made by Babasaheb at the time of independence. What we are witnessing is that the BJP is systematically trying to do away with gains made through the constitution, through the efforts of Babasaheb, manyavar Kanshiram and behen Mayawatiji. Therefore, we are fighting against this.
Soon after Mayawatiji declared her support to the SP’s candidates, it was said that the SP would support BSP’s candidate in the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls. This was seen as the first step to build a long-term alliance. Older slogans like “Miley Mulayam-Kanshi Ram, hawa mein ud gaye ‘Jai Shri Ram‘” started doing the rounds.
Behen Mayawatiji has said in the past too that the BSP supports the idea of opposition unity, but any such alliance should be based on certain programmes and policies. It should be very clear what is the strength of each party. There has to be a sense of direction and a sense of proportion. We are a major force in UP and also in many other states. If the other opposition parties are clear about our strength and they also feel that the secular social fabric of the nation and the constitution needs to be protected, then they should talk to behen Mayawatiji. Things will work out.
But with the exit of Naresh Agrawal and his son from the SP, the BSP may not be able to garner enough numbers to get its candidate elected. This may upset the BSP’s calculations.
I don’t think so. I would like to counter the assumption by saying that if all MLAs follow their party’s whip, we will have enough numbers. The Congress has seven MLAs, we have 19 MLAs, the SP has ten surplus votes and Rashtriya Lok Dal too has one MLA. Therefore, we should have enough numbers. I do not see any reason why our candidate should not win. I do not think the BSP will lose the seat and also hope that the opposition parties will remain firm in their commitment they have made to us.
In the last few days, there are efforts to form a non-BJP, non-Congress front. Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee has been talking about it, almost taking the lead. Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s K. Chandrashekhar Rao too spoke about such a possibility. Other parties have also supported the move. Despite the BSP being a substantial force, somewhere one feels that Mayawatiji has been absent in this discourse.
I think the question is hypothetical. Behen Mayawatiji would respond to this at the right time and at the right forum. The 2019 polls are a little away now. We shall respond to it when it is absolutely clear what the challenges are going to be before the 2019 polls. As of now, we supported the SP candidates only with a limited objective.
How does the BSP view the Congress in current political circumstances?
Let me say two things. There are regional variations in Indian politics. For instance, both the Congress and the BJP are not a significant force in Tamil Nadu. Now what do you do over there? Depending on regional variations, our strength and other political factors, we will think of a way forward. Our basic commitment is very clear. That we will not compromise on any attack on the constitution and the secular fabric of our nation. We shall also not compromise on any attack on dignity and self-respect of Dalits, OBCs, minorities, women and the poor of this country.
In the upcoming assembly polls in Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular)-BSP alliance is in direct contest with the Congress in as many seats.
I am not very much aware [of Karnataka]. But see, there are local factors. The Congress contested against the SP candidates in Phulpur and Gorakhpur. So what do you do?
Many BSP workers and leaders have joined the BJP in the last few years. Many BJP leaders think that the BSP will not be of much importance in the future. Has this forced the BSP to think of different strategies?
I think the BJP is absolutely wrong. Historically, if you see, people have been winning and leaving the BSP, but the party has been growing from strength to strength. It came on its own strength to power, in spite of the fact that many had left the party then too. A few months ago, there were municipal elections. We won the mayor’s elections. How can one say that the BSP will not be a force? We were second-largest party in terms of votes share. The fact is that the BJP is scared of the BSP’s strength.
But isn’t it a fact that the BJP took away a large chunk of non-Jatav Dalit voters from the BSP?
This is all absurd. We believe in the philosophy of Babasaheb, Savitribhai and Mahatma Phule, and manyavar Kanshiram. We have the support of Dalits, Muslims and OBCs. Behen Mayawatiji’s guidance on a day-to-day basis is only making us stronger. We are flexible. Not only is our core vote base intact, but we are going from strength to strength. Let me say that we shall definitely pose a serious challenge to the communal-obscurantist force of the RSS-BJP.
Do you not think Mayawatiji should be more visible in current politics?
This is [an] absolutely incorrect [perception]. After the assembly elections, she held four rallies – in Azamgarh, western UP, eastern UP and central UP. Lakhs and lakhs of party workers participated in these rallies. We are mobilising with greater vigour now.
There is a surge of new Dalit movements these days – be it the Bhim Army or the Jignesh Mevani-led movement in Gujarat. Why has the BSP maintained a distance from such forces? There is also some tension between BSP workers and supporters of these movements.
Let me say this. The BSP is the mainstream party for Dalit consciousness. Behen Mayawatiji is the central figure for this consciousness and the socio-political transformation of Dalits. There are bound to be other individuals who work towards this goal. We are a democratic country. India is a large country of 125 crore people. Those who are not members of the BSP but believe in the ideas of Babasaheb, we welcome them.
Many think that Mayawati ji’s resignation from the Rajya Sabha last year was a hasty decision. One does not get to hear the BSP’s standpoints in parliament anymore.
Not at all. Her voice was suppressed. She wanted to raise the issue of increasing atrocities on Dalits, attacks on Dalits in Saharanpur, Rohith Vemula and so on. Whenever she spoke, the treasury benches shouted her down. We wanted to make a point that we treat the parliament as a forum to raise the voice of discontented people, that of Dalits, minorities, OBCs and the poor. That was not being allowed. We were left with no choice. Behen Mayawatiji had to take this hard decision.
She also proved a point that we do not have any lust for power. We have the will for power. We want power, but only to change the system. Unlike the BJP, which wants power to make their own lives better, we want power to transform people’s lives. We are not like them.
What will be the BSP’s strategy for the 2019 general elections?
We are, of course, going to take the challenge very seriously. We wanted the SP candidates in Phulpur and Gorakhpur to win. At the moment, our focus is on the Rajya Sabha election, where we want our candidate, Bhimrao Ambedkar, to win. We will also cross the bridge when the time comes. We will continue to fight relentlessly for the ideas of Babasaheb, as taught to us by manyavar Kanshiram.