Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati on Wednesday, 6 September, launched an attack on the INDIA coalition. She accused the Opposition alliance of instigating the Narendra Modi government into allegedly renaming the country as Bharat, because they chose to name their alliance 'INDIA'.
There is a section within the INDIA alliance, mainly a few leaders from the Congress, who want to bring the BSP on board. However, Mayawati's public attacks on the alliance have made matters difficult for this section.
The Congress leadership, especially party president Mallikarjun Kharge, is said to have a different strategy towards the BSP.
Why is a section of the Congress keenly batting on an alliance with the BSP?
What's the Congress leadership's strategy towards the BSP and its base?
What's the BSP's calculation?
This article will try and answer these three questions.
Why Does a Section of the Congress Want an Alliance With BSP?
"The alliance needs the BSP. Even if the SP, Congress and RLD come together, under present circumstances, we are still at a disadvantage against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. This can change if Mayawati comes on board," a Congress leader from a Northern Indian state told The Quint.
However, it's not just Uttar Pradesh. Those batting for an alliance with the BSP say that it can benefit the Congress in Haryana, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh as well, all states where the BSP has some presence.
"The BSP voter is fundamentally an anti-BJP voter. Forget UP for a moment. The BSP voters in all the other states are voting for the party knowing very well that it cannot win. That's the level of commitment. This voter can be brought towards the INDIA alliance if Mayawati is accommodated in a respectable manner," a Dalit leader from the Congress told The Quint.
But the section of the Congress pushing for an accommodation with the BSP, is disappointed at Mayawati's lukewarm response.
One such leader said that Mayawati could ideally have seen the Congress' replacement of a Dalit Uttar Pradesh Congress chief (Brijlal Khabri) with a Bhumihar (Ajay Rai), as an olive branch from the Congress. The leader said it was a sign that the Congress didn't want to harm the BSP's base in UP.
Mallikarjun Kharge's Gamble: What's the Congress' Strategy?
The Congress leadership, particularly party president Mallikarjun Kharge, is said to have a very different strategy in mind.
Sources in the Congress say that Kharge is keen on bringing the strand of politics represented by the BSP, into the Congress fold, not through an alliance with the BSP but with a three-pronged approach that involves:
Increased representation within the Congress
A more aggressive stand by the Congress for the the protection of Dalit Bahujan communities
Deeper engagement with Dalit social organisations
Kharge personally led the Congress' outreach towards Dalit organisations in the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly elections.
According to surveys, the Congress secured close to two-thirds of the Dalit votes in Karnataka, which is unprecedented in recent years in the state as Dalit votes have almost been equally divided between the BJP and the Congress.
Kharge, who is a Dalit and Buddhist, is said to be confident of securing the support of Dalit, especially Ambedkarite organisations.
The position taken by Kharge's son and Karnataka minister Priyank Kharge on the recent controversy surrounding Udhayanidhi Stalin, is important in this context.
After Stalin criticised Sanatan Dharma as a 'disease', Priyank Kharge could easily have taken the same line as many of his party colleagues that the 'Congress respects all religions and viewpoints'.
However, Priyank Kharge openly said that any religion that promotes inequality, is not a religion.
Priyank Kharge's vocabulary on this matter, was firmly Ambedkarite.
Several assertive Dalit Bahujan accounts on social media, who aren't otherwise pro-Congress, actively came out in support of Udhayanidhi Stalin and Priyank Kharge.
It was a signal to Ambedkarite voters, organisations and influencers that the Congress can be a viable option.
A particular target is the Ambedkarite Dalit youth, who may be getting impatient with Mayawati's approach but isn't sure where to go.
What's the BSP's Perspective?
This actually leaves the Congress in a peculiar position with respect to the BSP. On one hand, the party knows that it cannot wish away the BSP, especially in UP where there is still no leader who can come even close to Mayawati's stature. On the other hand, the Congress is also trying to capture the BSP's base, especially outside of UP.
There other element in this mix is the Samajwadi Party.
By presenting himself as the only alternative to the BJP at the state level, Akhilesh Yadav managed to take away a significant part of the BSP's support among Muslims and to an extent among Dalits as well in the 2022 Assembly elections.
Mayawati's own ambiguity on issues concerning Muslims, such as the triple talaq law, the UAPA (Amendment) and unwillingness to take the BJP head-on, also contributed to this decline.
BSP leaders privately say that Mayawati feels a greater threat from the SP and Congress, than from the BJP.
The SP has already taken over the BSP's base among minorities in UP, the Congress secured the defection of BSP MLAs in Rajasthan and under Kharge, is trying to win over the BSP's core base.
But there is another aspect.
The BSP's fear is that in the INDIA coalition, the SP will always have more clout because of its links with other socialist parties and older connections with the Congress and Left. Then there's the prospect of playing second fiddle to Kharge and the Gandhis.
Many in the BSP also feel that both NDA and INDIA represent dominant caste interests, one using Hindutva and the other secularism to brush aside the concerns of oppressed castes.
In such a situation, Mayawati perhaps feels more confortable maintaining an equidistance from NDA and INDIA. The aggressive attacks on INDIA seem to be aimed at preventing any appropriation of the BSP's core base.