BJP’s endgame, divided opposition

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Mayawati cut a rather forlorn figure as she angrily stomped out of the Indian parliament. In a statement later, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief declared she had quit the Rajya Sabha after being “gagged” by the BJP on the issue of Dalit atrocities. If Mayawati’s extraordinary move was political theater aimed at generating some buzz, especially among her Dalit supporters, and whether it worked is too early to say. It didn’t impress political pundits ensconced in television studios.

Is it really the end of the road for the tallest Dalit leader once hailed by Narasimha Rao as ‘a miracle of democracy’ and by Newsweek as ‘India’s Barack Obama?’

It may not be all over for the four-time chief minister yet but her party certainly faces an existential crisis. Under the sustained assault of Modi-led BJP, which has trying to portray itself as the ‘new messiah’ of Dalits and backwards, Mayawati has been fast losing her Dalit support base to an essentially upper caste Hindutva party. Aided by its army of spin meisters and strategic media messaging, the BJP has been successfully weaning away Mayawati’s flock.

Less than two years after she lost India’s largest state to Samajwadi Party in 2012, the all-consuming Modi wave reduced Mayawati’s BSP to a humiliating third position in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the 2014 general elections.

Between 2014 and 2017 Assembly polls, her critical Dalit support base shrunk by 4 percentage points, from 26 percent to 22 percent, reducing her party to a paltry 19 seats in UP. These numbers aren’t sufficient to send even one MP to the upper house.

But this isn’t merely about a RS seat or two. What’s at stake is the very survival of her party. Mayawati may still be the queen of Dalits but she has lost her kingdom and courtiers to a resurgent Hindutva. And it’s not just BSP; nearly all secular parties have been battling the same situation as the BJP positions itself as an all-encompassing presence, promising and meaning all things to all people.

The greatest threat is perhaps faced by the BSP. Its predominant Dalit support base has been under fierce saffron assault and has been steadily bleeding; its erosion accelerating with each election over the past few years.

India has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past decade or so. An overwhelming majority of its population is young, and like all young people everywhere, very aspirational. The Dalit youth, armed with education and political awareness, haven’t been immune to this change, ironically heralded by the economic liberalization of the Congress. The BJP has been aggressively targeting this section of the electorate.

As V.V.P. Sharma argues, “The Dalit youth are looking for a messiah to deliver them. Many of them saw in Modi the deliverer as he played the Pied Piper in 2014. In many houses across the country, the father voted BSP while the son voted BJP.”

Many of them are too young to care about the Mandal and Mandir issues. Much like the youth around the world, they are more concerned about their own progress, no matter who offers it.

The fact that Dalit leaders like Mayawati and Ram Vilas Paswan have been preoccupied with their own growth and exponentially multiplied their assets over the past few years hardly helps. No wonder these groups are easily attracted to the BJP’s messaging projecting a large, happy Hindu Parivar offering growth to all sections, no matter what the ground reality is.

This is a disturbing state of affairs — and not just for the likes of Mayawati. The same fate awaits most political parties as the BJP poaches on their cadres and leaders as part of its strategy to emerge as the only ‘natural party of governance’ at everyone’s expense.

On the one hand, it’s aggressively targeting the core constituencies and support base of parties like the Congress, BSP, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. On the other hand, it is going after anyone who does not fall in line, using the state power and institutions like the CBI and ED at its disposal.

Look at the humbling silence that has been imposed on the once promising Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP leader and Delhi chief minister. With his entrapment in various cases, the anti-corruption crusader has been cut to size. The AAP leader had once been the most vocal critic of Modi and was seen as a possible alternative to the BJP and Congress.

In Bihar, where the BJP was spectacularly defeated in the last state elections, the saffron party has been playing the classic good cop-bad cop routine with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. By reopening all those cases against Lalu and his children, part of the coalition in Bihar, it is turning the heat on Nitish, forcing him to dump his partner and return to the NDA fold. It also tackles two birds with one stone. Since the BJP’s drubbing in Bihar, Nitish was being seen as the potential PM candidate. He is now left worrying about saving his government in Bihar.

As for the Congress, already battered and bruised and confined to a couple of states, is being shown its place, again and again, with attacks like the National Herald case. Subrahmanian Swamy, the fierce lapdog, is solely dedicated to digging up the dirt on the Gandhis to keep them embroiled in their own woes. In any case, with Sonia Gandhi preoccupied with her health issues and her ineffectual angel of a son refusing to grow up, the grand old party poses no immediate challenge. The BJP is resorting to the same tactics down South, as it eyes potential new states like Orissa, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to add to its kitty.

This is the end game. Anyone who remotely represents a challenge to Modi and the BJP in the foreseeable future is being taken care of. And the longer it takes for the opposition to wake up to the clear and present danger it faces, the harder would it be for it to ever recover.

Unless secular forces come together, for the sake of their own survival, if not to protect India’s secular democracy and diversity, they are staring at certain doom. The only option before them is to work together, keeping aside their petty egos and self-serving agendas, to confront the specter of hate and intolerance, there is little hope for India’s vibrant democracy.

A mere opportunistic alliance at the time of elections cannot deal with a determined and ideologically driven BJP and its large Parivar. The opposition must present a genuine alternative and competing, redeeming narrative to take on the ideology of hate that has turned the whole country upside down. Politicians like Mayawati need to go back to their grassroots to revive their parties and confront the unprecedented challenge India faces today. If they do not get their act together, they face certain peril, not to mention the threat to an inclusive polity and the idea of a progressive, secular India.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and commentator. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com


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