It was around September 1977. Janta Dal had defeated congress at the center and came to power. Mr. Raj Narain, who was the riding high as he defeated former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was the Health minister in Morarji Desai government, had to deliver a lecture at Constitution Club of India regarding Dalit community. While addressing the hall Mr. Narayan kept referring to dalits as ‘Harijan’. After Mr. Narain’s address a female school teacher, who was in her initial 20s at that time, came on the stage and tore into Raj Narain. She found the term as highly offensive and condescending. Though the word was coined by Mahatma Gandhi. This female teacher was none other than Ms. Mayawati who later went on to become four time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and monarch of Bahujan Samaj Party.
BSP was founded on 14th April 1984, by Kanshi Ram. The aim of the party was to represent Bahujans(people in majority) in the political arena. Bahujans included people from SC, ST, OBC, religious minorities. These Bahujans comprised of nearly 85% of population but which were divided into 6000 different castes and groups. B.R Ambedkar is ideological inspiration behind BSP, the man who fought for the rights of downtrodden in the Indian society. Other inspirational figure behind the party were Jyotiba Phule, Narayan Guru, Periyar E.V Ramaswamy and Sahuji Maharaj. Primary focus was on the upliftment of the downtrodden. They had self proclaimed ideology “Social Transformation & Economic Emancipation”.
The founder Kanshi Ram was born in 1934 in Punjab, later he went to Pune. He was a lab assistant in the arms department of DRDO. He was born to a Ramdasiya sikh family. Ramdasiya are considered as dalit. And there was a stigma attached to being a untouchable. In 1978 he formed Backward and Minority communities’ employment federation (BAMCEF). BAMCEF was to assemble government employees from backward and minority communities and raise the concerns about condition of backward caste and community in the society and polity. But as the government employees are bounded by the code of conduct regulations to stage an agitation, they could not do much politically. So to protest in favor of dalit community and carry an agitation, Kanshi Ram formed Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti(DSSS or DS4). DS4 organized huge protests and mobilized backward people to press for their demands and ask for equality in the society. Some of the noted slogans given by them were, “Tilak Taraju aur Talwar, inko maro jute chaar” and” Thakur Brahman Baniya Chhod, baki sb hai DS4”. Majority of these agitation took place in Haryana and Punjab. But these agitation could not be carried for long unless you had some political agenda. So to press their demand and to represent the Dalits for long term level they needed a political party. In 1984 BSP was formed.
Coming to Mayawati, after the incident with Raj Narain she came in notice of Kanshi Ram. One chilly night Raj Narain visited her parents home where Ms. Mayawati used to live. Mayawati wanted to be an IAS officer and she was preparing for that. That night Kanshi Ram told her that she has potential to become lot more than an IAS officer. She could make him a leader and all the IAS officer will be behind her. Mayawati agreed in spite of her father’s protest. She than became an active worker in the party and through her skills she was to become one of the greatest mass leaders in the country.
In the initial years BSP worked to strengthen its base. It shifted its working center from Punjab and Haryana to Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati rose in the party and became its front man or better to say front woman. First few years were not so good for the party as they lost most of the elections. But they tasted their first success in 1989 general assembly election. BSP won 3 seats, Mayawati won from Bijnor seat. In Punjab BSP got polling percentage of around 8.62%. During this time Mayawati rose quickly in the party, this caused uneasiness in many other party members. Many of whom left the party due to Kanshi Ram’s unequivocal support of Mayawati.
But 9th Lok Sabha dissolved in 1991. In Uttarpradesh BJP government was ruling. But in 1992 after Babri Masjid demolition BJP government could not continue. Muslim population was also not happy with Congress at the center. So Samajwadi and BSP saw it as an opportunity to lure the muslim as well as lower class vote bank. SP and BSP coalition won in 1993 Uttar Pradesh legislative election. Mayawati emerged as an important leader here and she was the communicating medium between BSP and SP. Kanshi Ram also asked her to press their demand on the SP to fulfill their objective for the low class group. Here was a time when Mayawati was often called as super CM. There was a straining of relations between SP and BSP. Around mid-1995 Kanshi Ram developed health complications and was admitted to hospital. From there he told Mayawati to take back support from SP. BJP agreed to support BSP. On 3rd June 1995. Mayawati became CM at an age of 39 for the first time. Gradually after this Kanshi Ram was sidelined in the party, Mayawati brought close the members of her liking. One of the reason for Kanshi Ram to not assert a leadership role was because he was not a mass leader. But Mayawati could not rule for long and government lost support after 4 months. Again she came to power and became CM for another 6 months with the support of BJP.
In 1998 BJP was ruling at the center and also Soniya Gandhi was ready to take the leadership of the Congress party. In 1999 BJP lost support and General elections for Lok sabha were held. BSP performed very well in the elections and garnered 14 seats in the Lok Sabha. Mayawati was also elected into Lok Sabha. In 2001 Kanshi Ram declared Mayawati as his political successor. Immediately after getting hold of the party leadership she suspended top three leaders from party Barkhu Ram Varma, R.K Chaudhari and Krishna Pal Singh. Now Mayawati was the unchallenged leader of BSP.
In 2002 Mayawati became CM for 3rd time with the support of BJP. But the term was not good for Mayawati as she got involved in various corruption charge. Taj corridor scam led the center government to go for CBI inquiry of the case. Taking it as offensive move, Mayawati resigned from the power and led to the fall of government in UP. CBI investigated Mayawati in TAJ Corridor case. At this time Mayawati was alone as Kanshi Ram’s health issues could not allow him to take active role in the party. So Mayawati found a new friend Soniya Gandhi.
In 2004 general assembly election BSP won 19 seats and she supported congress. Mayawati started contemplating over the ways to increase its vote bank. She realized that support of backward class people alone won’t take her to the power for long time. So she started to mobilize higher caste groups especially Brahmins. 2006 gave set back to BSP as it lost its founder Kanshi Ram. Recovering quickly from his death Mayawati started preparing for 2007 UP assembly elections. Now Mayawati gave tickets to higher caste people. She wanted to lure economically poor people among Brahmins. BSP gave new slogan “Brahman Sankh Bajayega, Hathi delhi jayega”. There were may meetings to mobilize Brahmins, Brahmins Samvelan Andolan and its main formulist was Satish Mishra.
This strategy worked for BSP and it accounted for nearly 17% of Brahmin vote. BSP got 206 seats, majority for the first time. And also this was for the first time after 27 years that a party secured complete majority in the UP. But this term was also not very easy for the BSP as the government got alleged of various corruption charges like NRHM scam. Mayawati was also accused of having unaccounted property. BSP vote bank also suffered during these years. Mayawati was also cautious of increasing presence of Rahul Gandhi in UP, especially his staying in the dalit’s house during night was not liked by Mayawati. In 2009 general elections BSP won 21 seats.
BSP was founded as a party for the lower caste people and in many ways it was successful in asserting their needs but in the later years of party, though it wanted to ride on the lower caste base, it mixed all the caste group which led to fall in its original vote bank. In 2012 UP elections party could not continue its winning streak and lost to SP. The setbacks for the party did not end here as in 2014 general elections the party underperformed at unprecedented levels. Though the party was 3rd highest vote gainer, it could not win any seat. In 2017 elections also BSP won only 19 seats.
It is irony that party which was created in the protest of higher class people, found its major success by the help of higher caste people. Also the objective for which the party was formed remained largely unachieved as lower caste people still grapple with the same problems. BSP chief must ponder over its strategies and bring out some genuine reasons to attract vote bank. This caste politics can’t assure herv to win every time.