Meerut: The 55-kilometer stretch between Ghaziabad and Meerut on National Highway 58 was a riot of blue on Monday morning.
After years, the Dalit czarina was leaving the forbidden cities and citadel to hit the road to meet her people in the hinterland.
Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati was travelling by road to Meerut to address the first in the series of workers' conferences. The conclaves are to be held on the 18th of every month — the day she resigned from Rajya Sabha protesting ‘denial of permission’ to raise atrocities against Dalits after caste clashes in Saharanpur earlier this year.
In the last ten years, the BSP chief has travelled out of Delhi or Lucknow only to attend elections rallies in poll seasons. Now, after a string of defeats, BSP is facing its worst crisis since its inception, 35 years ago. A mass movement built brick-by-brick by its founder Kanshi Ram may be coming apart at the seams of social coalitions it rested upon.
As BSP attempts a course correction of sorts, we attempt to hear from BSP’s core cadre on how such things have come to pass. Thousands of these die-hard Mayawati supporters turned up to hear the BSP leader in Meerut on Monday.
Satinder Kumar (name changed) is a "two-star officer" of the Bahujan Volunteer Force (BVF), BSP’s own crowd control unit. He doesn't remember the last time his leader spoke to party workers like this. “Ek tarah se achcha hua ki seat kam aayi hain. Party mein phir se josh aana zaroori tha (In a way, it is good that we got less seats. It was necessary for the party to become enthusiastic again)."
The party which commanded 206 MLAs in the UP Assembly in 2007 is now down to just 19. Mayawati may have resigned from the Rajya Sabha on moral grounds but her party wouldn't have been in a position to send her back to the Upper House had her term expired naturally.
While BSP leaders are guarded in their response, privately they admit that poor performance in recent elections has led to sagging morale among the rank and file. “It's really important that Behenji has decided to meet workers again. Elections are not far. We can't have party workers feeling demotivated," said one leader.
"There are less than two years to go before the General Election and we want to pull up our socks,” said Munkad Ali, the Rajya Sabha MP who has replaced Naseemuddin Siddiqui as party’s Muslim face.
The road to 2019 may be long but Mayawati’s tryst with the realpolitik may come as soon as this year. Party workers are excited at the prospect of the BSP boss contesting the Phulpur Lok Sabha bye-poll.
But what do they think of Mayawati's move to quit the Rajya Sabha? "Bilkul theek kiya! Manuwaadiyon ki sarkar inhe humari baat nahi rakhne deti (She did the right thing. The government of Manuwaadis won't let her talk about our issues)," said Mohit Kumar from Saharanpur district, which witnessed caste violence in May this year.
The challenge for Mayawati is both from outside and within. When caste violence broke out in Saharanpur earlier this year, a hitherto unknown Dalit outfit Bhim Army took the vanguard position. Its leader, 30-year-old lawyer Chandrashekhar Azad 'Raavan', emerged as the rallying force for Dalits.
Long after Mayawati changed her slogans to 'Sarvajan Hitai' (Prosperity for all) and advocated caste-harmony by promoting Brahmin faces, Bhim Army was preaching and promoting the same caste dialectics that Kanshi Ram once relied upon.
A generational divide among her supporters is evident. Raju, a 55-year-old resident of Saharanpur's Nakur, has been a loyal BSP foot soldier since 1984. He is not impressed with the new upstart. “The problem with this Bhim Army is that they are too indisciplined. They don't have the structure of the BSP. That is why behenji will remain the only true leader of our community. These are some young, hot-headed boys who are directionless. They should come under the wing of the BSP and fight under behenji."
In veiled attack on Bhim Army, which was held responsible for violence in Saharanpur, Mayawati said conspirators managed an organization to execute their plan and lodged cases against it when that plan was exposed.
But the younger lot disagrees. For many, like 28-year-old Mohit, the Bhim Army and BSP are two sides of the same coin. "You have seen how the Sangh Parivar works. BJP is a political party and RSS is a social outfit. That is how we see BSP and Bhim Army. We follow the ideology of Bhim Army but we will vote for BSP. Chandrashekhar has gone to jail for us. He cannot be a BJP stooge."