All-India Congress Committee general secretary, Mr Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to destabilise Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s government and win the next elections in Uttar Pradesh will have serious implications for the national polity. The Congress seems to have realised that Ms Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party don’t have the ability or strength to fight Ms Mayawati, and hence it should step into that space.
Since the Congress made huge gains in the 2009 general elections, the next Assembly elections would be its best bet. Mr Gandhi, whom Ms Mayawati calls “Congress yuvraj”, is in agitation mode to achieve that goal. Mr Gandhi’s activism has revolved around the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh for some time.
But he seems to have realised now that whatever one does, the Dalits are not going to abandon Ms Mayawati as she has built a social and cultural capital of her own in that community. She may not have done much for them in terms of economic welfare, but she has shown them what self-respect means and has given them a socio-cultural and religious identity. The Buddhist-Ambedkarite shrines that she has built and even the new names of districts and schools, colleges and institutions of Dalit-Bahujan icons has altered the Hindu-centred cultural milieu of Uttar Pradesh.
Whatever Mr Gandhi and the Congress do around the Dalit constituency, the people are not going to change sides now. The Congress seems to have realised this.
Interestingly, the other major vote base of Ms Mayawati is the Brahmin community. The Congress wants, perhaps, to wean them away by displaying the party’s Brahmin leadership at the state level. For a long time Uttar Pradesh was virtually a state of Brahmin hegemony and now they too have gone over to Ms Mayawati. But Brahmin voters will shift only when they feel that the Congress is likely to come to power. Otherwise they will prefer to remain with the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Muslims are the other social force that can make Ms Mayawati win or lose. But Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims don’t trust the Congress. They still feel that the Ram Janmabhoomi issue was created by the Congress during Rajiv Gandhi’s rule and that the party cannot be treated as the real and permanent enemy of the BJP and the Hindutva culture.
Mr Rahul Gandhi’s religious identity is not yet clear but Muslims know for sure that Ms Mayawati is a confirmed Buddhist and her nationwide Buddha Purnima advertisement on May 17 made her minority religious position clear.
Muslims also know that Ms Mayawati did not allow the BJP to create any communal tension during her tenure as the chief minister. Why should they go against her in the next election?
And thus, the Congress is not sure of the Muslims’ support. The higher other backward classes by and large support Mr Mulayam Singh and the lower Other Backward Classes (OBCs) swing between him and Ms Mayawati. Since the Congress did not take a trustworthy stand on OBC empowerment, there is not much scope for it to woo the OBC votebank.
The Congress, therefore, turns to farmers who constitute the middle and upper Shudra forces, and who did not benefit from Ms Mayawati’s economic or social agendas. This is the motorcycle (even car) class of Uttar Pradesh and Mr Gandhi wants to reach out them on a motorcycle. This social class earlier was with the late Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh and a few of them are with his son Ajit Singh even now. Since Mr Ajit Singh is not a force to reckon with, they seem to think that the Congress is their best bet.
But that class lost its lower caste clout when the Dalits and lower OBCs were tied to its feudal yoke. The BSP has broken that feudal tangle and this group does not command winnable strength in the villages now.
In fact, if the Congress is identified too much with this Kulak class, half of Ms Mayawati's headache is over. While the Dalits hate this class, the Brahmins and Muslims too dislike it. Uttar Pradesh is not Bengal where the landed gentry could control the village lower caste votebank.
Mr Gandhi must have taken his inspiration from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to take up and fight for the rights of farmers. In Communist Bengal, the upper caste feudal hold on lower castes still exists, but in Uttar Pradesh that hold is completely broken. Mr Gandhi, in my view, is walking into a new trap of the Kulak class in a state where its political back is already broken by caste mobilisation from downwards.
UPA chairperson and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was recently talking against Ms Mayawati’s caste politics. But Ms Mayawati's political agenda has gone beyond caste now and it revolves around spiritual and social and cultural transformation.
Ms Mayawati made it clear on Buddha Jayanti that she is working to transform the “Hindu Uttar Pradesh” into a Buddhist Uttar Pradesh, and will continue to do so if she comes to power in the forthcoming elections. With her common sense approach she chose to bury the BJP in its own place. The Congress cannot stop this transformation with its so-called “secular agenda”.
If the Gandhis continue to work around the Kulak class and keep on talking against caste politics, whatever work they have done around Dalits will be treated as gimmicks.
Mr Gandhi is too close to the BJP in cultural terms. His father’s moves had given Uttar Pradesh to Kanshi Ram; the son cannot finish the disciple by walking into the same trap. If the Congress wants to come to power in Uttar Pradesh, it has to find a stronger Dalit woman than Ms Mayawati from the same state as its leader. The Bahugunas and the Tiwaris cannot shake her at all.