Yashwant Sinha, in the ‘United India Opposition Rally’ held in West Bengal on 19 january 2019, stated that the coming together of opposition parties is not to defeat ‘one person’. It is a fight between two ideologies. The ideologies that will uphold the constitutional ethos; that will protect secularism from the religious majoritarianism and that will strengthen the democratic institutions. Adding to it, he said that ‘Hamare liye Modi mudda nahi hai, hamare liye mudda mudda hai’. The gathering was addressed by more than 22 regional parties across the states from North-East, Central India, J&K to the Southern states.
With the opposition parties gathering on a single stage, it has created an immediate threat for the BJP government. The anxiety is quite visible in the speech delivered by the BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, Sadhana Singh, when she came down to personally target Mayawati by demeaning her character. Time and again, upper caste men and women have expressed derogatory remarks against the Dalit leader Mayawati, and this time she was called ‘worse than a eunuch’. It is surprising to examine how caste supremacy has silenced the champions of feminism. The silence of the upper caste liberal feminists such as Nevedita Menon, Kavita Krishnan etc. speaks a lot about their caste collaboration.The impact of BSP-SP alliance has forced the BJP to consolidate the Hindu upper caste votes. To counteract this, BJP has brought in the new 124th constitutional amendment bill, which promises 10% reservation for the economically weaker section among the upper castes, opened cow shelters and spent crores of money in hosting the ‘Kumbh Mela’.
Mayawati has already made a statement that BJP will be forced to change their strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, looking at the unity of the opposition parties. The anxieties have turned out to be real after the continuous failure of populist politics led by Modi-Yogi governments in delivering services that had been promised in the manifesto of 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the past four and half years of its governance, it has failed to generate two crores employment for the youth that it promised, demonetisation and GST have proved to be failures, the state has witnessed high suicide rates among farmers, atrocities on dalits have gone up, cases ofviolence and lynching on minorities have increased, there have been been frequent threats to journalists, public institutions such as, health, higher education, CBI, UPSC, judiciary, media have been paralysed, there are cases of corruption like the Vyapam and Rafale scams etc. The Modi regime has failed to bring back bank defaulters like Vijjay Mallya and Nirav Modi and when the citizens of the country are dying of poverty, the property of Jay Shah has increased 16000 times during the BJP government. Further, CSDS has come up with a report on 25th May 2018 of a survey across states that showed BJP losing its popularity and credibility as compared to 2014 elections. In the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh the defeat of the ruling party is a major setback for it, ahead of the Lok Sabha poll.
Downfall of Congress and Rise of Regional Parties
As in the case of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s success was less due to their own achievements and more because of the failure of the Congress government. 2014 elections took place in the back-drop of the Anna Hazare movement against corruption, Commonwealth scam, 2G corruption and the agitation by farmers to provide MSP for the goods brought to the market. Similarly, if we analyse the recent state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the success of Congress in forming government in these three states is mostly due to the anti-incumbency factor. Those constituencies where voters had an option to go beyond the Congress-BJP dichotomy, they went ahead with the available alternatives. Thus regional parties such as BSP and SP played a decisive role in both MP and Rajasthan. Not only this, in the constituencies where the votes did not find suitable candidates, they went for NOTA.
In repeated instances, wherever the Congress calculated that its winning chances were higher, they contested on their own and showed least interest in sharing seats with other parties. But the Congress is always keen for an alliance where the regional parties are dominant. It had no difficulty in going for an alliance in the states where it has lost its base as in case of Bihar with RJD, in UP with BSP and SP. Congress party has subordinated the ‘politics of principle’ to ‘politics of numbers’ because of its self-centrist interests. The umbrella party should note that for dalit-bahujan politics ‘politics of principle’ along with the question of representation go hand in hand.
Fear factor Within Marginalised Communities
The fascist regime has been a threat to democracy across the country. However, fascism is an abstract category and its location is invisible while atrocities, inequality, injustice, violence, humiliation and discrimination are immediately accessible. For dalit-bahujans, fighting dictatorship and fascism is secondary and saving themselves from immediate atrocities perpetuated by dominant caste groups is primary. And so the issue for dalit-bahujan and minorities is the basic question of survival, the question of everyday existential crises. If we read the voting patterns in the last state elections of Haryana and Maharashtra, the small shift in Dalit voters towards BJP is not because of ideological transformation but failure of Congress to protect the marginalised communities. In the state of Haryana, violence and atrocities on dalits have been perpetuated by the dominant castes (Jats) protected by Congress chief minister belonging to the Jat community. The mere hope shown by BJP that it will go for a non-Jat chief ministerial candidate which will keep a check on daily violence done on dalits had lured dalits voters. But the overall living conditions of minorities and dalits have not changed. The same was promised by BJP in Maharashtra when it proposed a non-Maratha representative to save dalits from dominant Marathas. It has been evident that the changing of power at the centre has a limited impact on improving the conditions of the historically, socially, culturally, economically and educationally oppressed groups. It is therefore imperative that the regional parties that claim to be representative of certain marginalised groups and communities should play an important role in addressing their immediate concerns.
A note on Multi-Party Coalitions
BSP-SP’s decision to not go for alliance with Congress in UP is a step that has paved way and created an imagination that the small and big regional parties can play a decisive role in the coming Lok Sabha election. With SP-BSP alliance and Mamata Banerjee calling for an ‘United India Opposition Rally’ three months ahead of Lok Sabha poll has provided an impetus to alter the existing dominance of two party rule in India politics. The SP-BSP alliance with other regional parties in UP by excluding Congress is an equal concern for the umbrella party too. With coming together of SP-BSP in UP, there is celebration among dalit-bahujan communities in the entire state. However, BSP president Mayawati has said that the factors behind not including Congress in the alliance is because the Congress party has not been able to transfer their core voters to their alliance partners.
Christophe Jaffrelot, in his recent article has said, this is a repetition of the 1977 where there was a coming together of opposition on the extra-ideological plank of anti-congressism. It was also considered that such a non-homogenous coalition will lead to nothing, but instability and chaos. But this is not the whole reality. Karpoori Thakur has said that, more weak the government at the centre, more the importance of smaller parties. On one hand, we can see that the stable government in the form of BJP has bought draconian policies of 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill along with Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 which has diluted the very notion of social justice. On the other hand, with respect to the Backward communities, the very same ‘unstable’ Janata Government had appointed Mandal Commission in 1979. Then the completed report met the prolonged negligence of Congress Government which came to power. But again the historical achievement for backward communities in Indian Politics, the implementation of Mandal Commission, was again during the ‘unstable’ National Front Government of V. P. Singh. Although the ‘unstable’ coalition government, which precariously relied on the combined strength of the left CPI, CPIM and the right-wing BJP, could only last for less than a year, it implemented a fixed quota of jobs in all the public sector to be reserved for the historically disadvantaged communities identified as backward classes which constitute more than 50% of India’s total population. This historical achievement during the unstable regime has changed the political scenario of the current politics. There is always a silver lining to the dark cloud. Thus one can put that the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election is a fight between fascism and democracy, but for the larger dis-privileged backward masses it would be on the question of recognition, redistribution and representation.
On the socio-cultural front, the question of recognition is a must for those whose identities have been misrecognised, insulted, humiliated and atrocities are perpetuated in their everyday life. For this, it is necessary to protect, preserve and celebrate the icons of all the oppressed communities that provide inspiration and supplement energy to the oppressed communities to fight with the existing inequalities.These icons are symbols of resistance. At the economic level, the struggle for bridging the prevailing inequality between haves and have-nots has to be dwelt upon. However, it would be important to observe the road map designed by different parties on which the seats would be distributed among different caste-class groups. BJP’s divide and rule politics of promising to provide a quota within quota have already created a friction between the OBC & EBC communities in UP and Bihar. The concerns raised by those who have been left out within the marginalised communities are important and the parties that follow the principle of social justice should provide ample space to those whose voices have not been represented in the mainstream society. The regional parties such as BSP, SP and RJD should rectify their mistake of which they have been accused of in the past. Providing adequate representation to those who have been politically not represented would generate social emancipation within these communities and develop a sense of confidence in them. It would give voice to the voiceless so that they can come into mainstream politics and assert themselves. However, for now, it would be wise to examine the agenda on which different parties will approach the elections.
Omprakash Mahato is a BAPSA activist and PhD scholar in Center for Political Studies (CPS), JNU.