May 30, 2007

Behenji Strategy

When all political parties in India are trying to establish themselves in various capacities as the saviour of the downtrodden, the middleclass, the unemployed, backward classes, etc the Bahujan Samaj Party led by the firebrand Mayawati seems to have cracked the winning formula.

In the last decade or so, most of the leadership in all almost all political parties in India is purely reactive. After winning an election there is desperate clamouring for alliances and coalitions. Then there is the integration time for getting to know each other and accommodating each other. One third of the tenure is now lost. And before long the powers that be go on a drive to recover their election expenses. You will suddenly see grand schemes being launched and it is but obvious that most of the grants to these schemes are channeled through 'friends' who 'helped' them secure their election victory. Soon its time for the next elections and who know whether you will make it again given that nothing was done for the people so there is a period where everyone maximises the investment they made to get to power. End result? Another run after elections to form the government. If the people who 'helped' you were not happy with their returns you are out and a new Charlie is in the drivers seat. And the story goes on ...

However Behenji as Mayawati is called by her supporters has over the past two years being quitely working behind the scenes to exploit the weakness of her competitors and the environment (UP politics) to her advantage. Given the absence of strong leadership in the state from any national party (read INC and BJP) the only person left was Mulayam. Mayawati set out to put her candidates in place well in advance to make sure the people know who represents which party and to avoid confusion at the end. She then threw the BSP's caste agenda aside and positioned it as the 'sarva samaj' party including Brahmins, Muslims and OBCs under one wing. The new mantra seems to be the welfare of the sarva samaj.

Over two years the idea seeped in, took ground and needless to say the people of Uttar Pradesh tired with the soft Hindutva and caste based politics decided to give the BSP a chance. The result? A thumping victory for the BSP on its own steam. As usual parties have 'reacted' in a bid to woo Dalit voters. The national parties are taking special efforts to see that Dalits dont feel alienated.

What does this mean for Indian politics? Will this (termed 'Brahmin-Dalit bhaichara') be the new mantra? Its too early to say. For one, UP politics has in recent years seen the demise of the INC and the BJP and its more a tug of war between the SP and the BSP. Though the model can be replicated in select states where there is a so called power vacuum. However Im pretty sure that the larger parties will not sit quitely. Another important point is that Mayawati seems to have no idea what to do ahead. i.e. with respect to the development of UP, aligning the various interests of the many factions which make the new fabric of the BSP, etc. Was she expecting a victory? or has the result stunned her as well?

Whatever it is, India has got a new formula to pursue. Whether it will work or not only time will tell. If it works, Indian politics will move from caste based politics to the integration of economically backward classes, hopefully without caste, which is a good thing. If it doesnt work we not be worse off. There is no downside. Welcome Mayawati! Hope you change Indian politics for the better.

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