Maths in place, SP-BSP voters are working on their chemistry
Ravindra Paras Valmiki, a Dalit politician from Agra, is on a steep learning curve these days. For the first time in the 24 years he has spent in BSP, his speeches aren’t ending with just ‘Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat’. After that comes ‘Jai Lohia, Jai Samajwad’, in the spirit of the alliance his party has strung together with SP.
It’s likewise for SP leaders, who idolise socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia.
Taking the names of Dalit icon Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar — followed by that of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati — before starting their speeches is the new standard operating procedure for SP cadres and leaders. Just as the merged flags of the two parties is. At the core of this public display of affection for each other’s icons is the billion-dollar question being asked about the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh after SP and BSP buried their bitterness to join hands: will they be able to transfer their core votes (SP’s Yadavs and BSP’s Jatavs) to each other?
The bonhomie, meantime, is meant to silence critics of the alliance.
The issue of transferability of votes has become a central one for the allies who were bitter rivals for more than two decades.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that those like Valmiki prefer to harp on “dilon ka gathbandhan” (an alliance of hearts) when conversation veers to the 1995 attack by SP workers on Mayawati at a Lucknow But the issue of “sammaan” (respect) is not easy to address at the ground level, given the history of animosity between the Yadavs and the Jatavs. Ram Das, 60, a Jatav farmer in Kothi Bicharpura village in Etawah feels Mayawati has belittled the expectations of Dalits by tying up with SP. “The goons had a free run in SP regime. It’s Akhilesh and not Mayawati who will be at the helm of affairs. And if goonda raj is going to return, where will the Dalits go for justice?”
Updesh Kumar, a youth from the Dalit village, agrees. “Yadav aur Jatav ki dosti aaj tak nahin chal payi. (Yadavs and Jatavs can never be friends). Behenji is going to be the biggest loser in this alliance as Akhilesh will get far more seats. While we transfer our votes to them, the reverse does not happen.”
While admitting that some Dalits had voted for BJP in the 2017 state polls, he says backing SP is like choosing between the frying pan and the fire. “So, it’s better to remain in the frying pan. At least there’s no fear of Yadavs in the present regime,” says Kumar. But the fears of some Dalits like those in Kothi Bicharpura notwithstanding, the chemistry between the core support
base of SP and BSP seems to be working at the grassroots. “The alliance will be as effective as it was in 1993,” says Radhey Shyam, a Dalit labourer from Agra, referring to the historic Mulayam-Kanshi Ram pact that trounced BJP in 1993, less than a year after the Babri Masjid demolition.
A resident of Agra’s Bhim Nagar Gali, Radhe Shyam says it’s the pains inflicted by demonetisation that are bringing voters of the two parties together. “Over two years ago, there were six small shoemaking units in this street and I used to earn up to Rs 400 a day ferrying these shoes in my cart. They are all closed now and I barely manage Rs 150 a day,” he says, adding Dalits and OBCs were the worst sufferers of demonetisation.
The Yadavs have their concerns too but Shishupal Singh Yadav of Sarai Esar village is confident it won’t come in the way of transfer of SP votes to BSP. “We don’t have a problem with Mayawati. Even if her governance is worse than her previous stint, it will still be better than the Yogi-Modi regime,” says Shishupal, though he also adds that “false” cases against non-Dalits under the SC/ST Act go up whenever BSP comes to power.
In many villages and ‘rurban’ areas, the Akhilesh-Mayawati bonhomie is being seen as a throwback to the 1993 assembly polls.
“This would be the first time after 1993 that entire Dholpura will vote as one,” says Naresh Pal, a Jatav resident of the village in Ferozabad LS seat.