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  For the Edit Page
  Up Elections

Devesh Vijay

Indian Express

25/5/07, Edit Page.


Hope and Reality


The election of a dalit woman as chief minister of the largest state of India on her own party strength is an extremely positive development in Indian politics and a proof of the continuing vitality of our democracy. Hopefully, Mayawati’s first stint as CM with an absolute majority will further catalyse welfare and development specially for the poor and not remain centred on caste politics or coronation ceremonies. 


However, to conflate what has happened and what we wish to see happening would be an easy but disastrous slip at this juncture. A number of leading analysts have asserted over the past week that the installation of a BSP government in UP reflects a major turnaround in the political consciousness of the oppressed and a watershed as far as solidarity among the poor is concerned.


The latter conclusion is highly flawed in our view. Firstly, it completely glosses over the fact that the majority gained by Mayawati in Lucknow is only in terms of assembly seats. A party which has 70% of the electorate voting against it cannot be described as the party of all the poor or even all dalits and minorities. That this may happen in the near future with good governance from the new dispensation is a sincere hope. But to suggest that 25% of voters who remained loyal to the Samajwadi Party, do not include the poor, is sheer polemics.


More pertinently, the assertion that the poor were the principal force behind the triumphant march of the elephant to Lucknow ignores the most significant feature of the UP election namely, the shift of a major chunk of upper caste (which also happens to be mainly upper and middle class) vote to the BSP seeking reprieve from the goonda raj and the perceived minorityism of the previous regime. Indeed, it is this 4% vote swing from the BJP to the BSP which independently accounts for the turnaround in the seat share and the current mood in Uttar Pradesh also.


We would also like to report that our own micro study of a village in Meerut district through the election month shows a major chink in the theory of a single dalit voice. In interview after interview, for instance, we gathered that the so called dalit vote is itself divided vertically between jatavs and valmikis in the region with the latter being much more loyal to the Congress than the BSP till today. Similarly, about 100 pre and post poll interviews in the region also suggested to us that most muslim respondents remained firmly loyal to the Samajwadi Party (or the newly founded United Democratic Front of Yaqoob Qureshi). The ability of Mr. Mulayam Singh to retain his vote share at 25% despite his association with “goonda raj” is not surprising in this sense.


Another aspect of the recent UP battle which needs to be remembered was the re-election of some of the most dreaded mafiosi on the basis of both terror and community support in at least a dozen constituencies. In this light again, the suggestion that voters were indifferent this time to community affiliations while voting, seems premature. The stranglehold of the biggest dons on the populace in the area is such that wherever they are in command, the problems of the poor vis a vis government machinery or the smaller goons have some hope of being addressed through their whip. Many residents of Ghazipur, Badayun and Muzaffarnagar are thus thankful and quite loyal to their area dons, ironically.


Hopefully, the clear warnings from behen Mayawati to the bhaiyas of the underworld and the babus in the offices would improve things in days to come. This may in turn galavanise a real popular assertion cutting across caste lines. But to jump the gun and to assert right now that the present vote for the BSP was the radical assertion of the poor as a whole would both be factually and politically misleading.


To miss the real import and promise of the present regime change in the anxiety to be politically correct would be an immense loss at an opportune moment.




Devesh Vijay,

Reader in History,

Zakir Husain College, University of Delhi.

Res: D14-A/2, Model Town, Delhi-110009

Phone: 65470370.

e-mail: deveshvij@gmail.com