Among the top tier parties in India with a larger support base than most parties and a party that has a bigger national appeal than many of the other parties and is not limited to a specific state, region or territory is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose core supporters come from the schedule castes, schedule tribes and other backwards castes and while the party doesn’t have a manifesto per se or has opted not to release one, it represents the rights of those who do not belong to the upper class or castes and while people outside India may have difficulties coming to terms with the caste system, it does play a role in Indian politics. Caste based politics is an ugly facet of Indian politics and representatives do get elected on the caste ticket especially if they represent the dominant caste in a specific area or constituency.
In addition to state interests and national interests’ politicians in India sometimes also have to contend with caste based issues and this can at times lead to heated debates in the political arena but it is not as bad as some people make it out to be. Most Indians these days realize the mistakes that they have made in the past and are working towards overcoming caste related obstacles and likewise most parties realize that in order to either acquire or hang on to the reins of power they need support from all sections of the community and both the BJP and the INC are working towards building a broader support base and are wooing supporters from all sections of the community, regardless of caste, race or religion.
Despite the fact that there have been numerous reports on caste biasness, the official stance has always been to give more privileges to the less fortunate especially when it comes to education and employment.
The government strategy for many, many, years has been to give preference to those that belong to backward castes but that mechanism can sometimes break down at regional levels and it is almost impossible at times to steer away from caste based issues especially when there are politicians who choose to play up on those issues.
The BSP is not without its internal divisions but that is only to be expected. Any party that has a large and diverse following is bound to have internal divides.
The party was founded in 1984 and has been around for some time. Its founder Kanshi Ram was born in the Ropar District of Punjab to a Sikh family. He also founded the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees’ Federation (BAMCEF) in 1971 and the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti in 1981 which was the predecessor of the present BSP to raise awareness among Dalits on caste based issues and the role of Dalits in the wider political spectrum.
Caste issues are not only prevalent among Hindus but it was and in some instances still is an issue among Sikhs. He died in 2003 (18th September) and was succeeded by the incumbent, Mayawati, who has served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh four times and can be described as a veteran politician who still has a very strong following in Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati is an outspoken critic of the BJP, a party that she views as a predominantly Hindu party and at once stage she even threatened to convert to Buddhism if the BJP doesn’t change its attitude towards the Dalits, but as I have mentioned earlier the BJP is making efforts to widen its support base, it has too if it wants to remain in power.
The party continues to campaign for the rights of Dalits who without doubt belong to the most vulnerable sections of the community and are sometimes threatened with violence. In 2017 for example, a BSP party leader Rajesh Yadav was shot dead and that is an indication of how heated things can get.
The party is currently trying to expand its support base, especially after the BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and is willing to join hands with other secular parties if the terms are acceptable. The BJP’s victory as far as the party is concerned was largely due to the use of Electronic Voting Systems and the party is current pushing for a return to paper balloting.