New Delhi: Bahujan Samaj Party: Although Kanshi Ram founded it as a national party for Dalits in North India commencing from Punjab but leaving its footprint everywhere, the Bahujan Samaj Party has become restricted to Uttar Pradesh, where it formed a government for the first time on its own led by Mayawati. Mayawati comes in the league of such strong-minded chief ministers as Jayalalithaa Jayaram and Mamata Bannerjee who are virtual dictators in their parties but, nevertheless, she has her own particularities -- and not a few peculiarities.

Mayawati is that rare Dalit politician who is totally assured of the votes of her community in Uttar Pradesh although she can be a spoiler in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh as well. Contemporary Dalit politicians such as Ram Vilas Paswan cannot share her assurance about the Dalit votebank and are struggling to remain relevant. What makes Mayawati special? It is an old theory of this writer that Mayawati on purpose has never directly worked under another upper caste politician. She has refused Union ministerships and in Uttar Pradesh, it is the chief ministership or nothing for her.

Jagjivan Ram who was the doughtiest Dalit Union minister to date and far down the line, Paswan, elected to be in cabinets led by forward caste prime ministers. Not Mayawati ever. This counts for a lot with Dalits. They are proud of her apparently absent political subjection. They are happy to bear her scorn and are delighted by her garish birthday celebrations, over-the-top personal jewellery and obsession about handbags. The stronger the allegations of financial irregularities against her, the greater their cause to rally to her defence.

But in the end, Mayawati is a rather disastrous package. She has no governing vision. It is doubtful if her government left any impact on Uttar Pradesh whose electorate, after all, dumped her for the equally or more disastrous father-and-son duo of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav. She kept the peace in Uttar Pradesh to be sure. It did not have the rash of riots which have happened now. But this cannot be noted as an extraordinary achievement. What about growth and development, bringing the state out of generations of backwardness? Mayawati contributed nothing in that direction. But her personal riches have considerably grown in the five years she was Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister.

Ultimately, this is the great tragedy of Mayawati. If Kanshi Ram were alive, he would resent the direction of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Dalits doubtless feel more empowered today than at any time before. But they cannot, in all honesty, claim the political status of the so-called other backward classes, the Yadavs, Kurmis, Koeris, etc, represented by the likes of Mulayam Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, and so forth. Remove Mayawati from the picture and there is no Dalit politician of any consequence in national politics. The blame for this can no longer be solely directed against the forward castes. The “creamy layer” of Dalit politicians has denied growth opportunities to others in the community. This includes the Paswans of the world who are promoting their own dynasties and Mayawati is no exception to this trend.

Mayawati is still comparatively young but there is no suggestion that she is creating a structured leadership in the Bahujan Samaj Party. At least Kanshi Ram mentored her. On the other hand, Mayawati’s more trusted aides and subordinates largely are from the forward castes. After her, would the country see the bizarre situation of the Bahujan Samaj Party being led by a non-Dalit, much like a Dravidian party being headed by a Brahmin, Jayalalithaa? It is not unlikely. Below a mean, the party would not lose its strength in Uttar Pradesh and in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, on account of the Dalit votes, but it will not grow, and the decline would begin after Mayawati. Rating of the Bahujan Samaj Party: 2 out of 10.

Communist Party of India-Marxist: To run a successful political party in India, you need to be more than an ideologue, and the repeated electoral failures of the Communist Party of India-Marxist reflect rather poorly on its general secretary, Prakash Karat’s leadership qualities and instincts. The party has lost power in Kerala and West Bengal and holds on to Tripura strictly courtesy the magical electability of Manik Sarkar, who has been continuously chief minister for 15 years.

To be fair to Karat, he has also been elected to the top party post repeatedly, and his grip over the Marxist front organizations is more or less unassailable. But his traction with the electorate is nil. The last Marxist heavyweight who commanded the popular vote was Jyoti Basu, and his ambition to be prime minister in the mid-1990s was scuttled by Karat and the other young and rising communists. His argument, made to this writer on one of those days, was that it only made sense to have a Marxist prime minister of a Marxist government, and he would work in that direction. Basu’s point, although it was only generally and indirectly articulated, was that if a Marxist prime minister left a deep and abiding impression on the country, it would give a fillip to the Communist Party of India-Marxist in the future. It is debatable if history would have hewed to that course, but clearly Karat’s obduracy and puritanism have made the party stagnant and pushed it into decline.

Some weeks ago, Karat and other like-minded politicians tried to bring together a third front to be led by the likes of Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Yadav. Where has this group politics led Karat’s party? Nowhere. How on earth does it make sense for Karat to expend energies to make others the prime minister? Why not Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the former West Bengal chief minister? Or himself? Granted, the party is in no position to call the shots. But who brought it to this pass? The party was much stronger, the third in contention after the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, when Jyoti Basu wished to be prime minister. This writer believes he would have made a decent prime minister. But Karat churlishly denied him the final glory.

In a multi-party democracy, such hard line gets you immobilized. Karat does not have the flexibility of an elected politician. If he had been one, he would have been alerted to the danger of the authoritarian terror that the party had unleashed in rural West Bengal. He may not have been able to prevent the rise of Mamata Bannerjee, but there is nothing to suggest that he has since learnt the lessons from the debacles in the eastern state and in Kerala.

The bigger crisis of the party under Karat is that it has been unable to expand to new territories, while facing negative competition from the Maoists. The party has no programme for the young, no plan for the country’s economic revival aside from a stodgy opposition to reforms, and it does not have a political architecture for itself other than to seek non-existent spaces athwart the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. This is no way to do politics.

But the situation is unlikely to change. The Marxists may return to Kerala but no more in West Bengal, and it would continue to draw a blank in the rest of the country, and especially in the heartland states. This writer has great personal regard for Karat, one of the few decent and upstanding men in Indian politics, and his refusal to truck with the Indo-American nuclear deal was indeed principled. But at the same time, the Communist Party of India-Marxist has been marginalized in politics, and before long, it would be too late to revive the party. Karat must turn over the party to a younger, dynamic elected leadership. On current standing, the party will do poorly in the 2014 election. Rating: 2 out of 10.

Please also read “The party begins...1,” “The party begins...2” and “The party begins...3.”

To be continued...