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Dalit wake-up call for Maya statue politics

Lucknow, Oct. 8: Tomorrow’s Bahujan Samaj Party rally is expected to mark a shift from Mayawati’s “statue politics” following a realisation, backed by a study by British and Indian researchers, that her parks and memorials have left Dalit voters unimpressed.

Mayawati will tomorrow focus on her demand for a promotion quota for Dalits in government jobs and other “need-based” issues such as reservation for the community in private jobs, party general secretary Swamy Prasad Maurya told The Telegraph.

The study, published on July 14 in the Economic and Political Weekly, has shown that educated and young Dalits, in particular, care little about the statues Mayawati built of Dalit icons.

Maurya said the party would now try to woo the more educated Dalits, many of whom hold government jobs, by taking a tough stand on the promotion quota, opposed by the rival Samajwadi Party.

“The party will do a harder bargain for Dalits now,” Maurya said while playing down the study’s impact, saying the party had independently reached the same conclusions through its own surveys.

The EPW report, “Why did Dalits desert the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh”, is co-authored by Oliver Heath, who teaches politics at University of London, and Sanjay Kumar of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. It’s based on a survey conducted in Uttar Pradesh in June. Some of the key findings:

64 per cent of uneducated Dalits voted for the BSP in the 2012 state elections but only 45 per cent of educated Dalits did so.

70 per cent of Dalits aged 45 to 59 voted for Mayawati but only 49 per cent of those aged 18 to 30 did.

86 per cent of Jatavs, Mayawati’s own caste, voted for her in 2007 but only 62 per cent did so in 2012.

“Only 15 per cent of Jatavs... believed the statues were a good idea,” says the study. “Among non-Jatav Dalits... 33 per cent thought it was a good idea but 39 per cent thought it was not a good idea.”

73 per cent of Dalits who fully supported the statues voted for the BSP; but less than half of those did not support the statues did so.

“Construction of statues does not appear to have been very popular with Dalits and, moreover, it may even have cost the BSP votes,” the study says.

“The BSP fared particularly badly in places where it had traditionally done well, such as in the Assembly constituencies reserved for Dalits.”

Mayawati had built parks and memorials replete with statues of Dalit icons between 2008 and 2010, spending over Rs 600 crore and triggering Opposition attacks. Although BSP leaders agree with the study’s assessment, they defend the statue construction as part of the party’s “Dalit cultural movement”.

Mayawati will not be totally abandoning her rhetoric on Dalit icons at tomorrow’s Rashtriya Sankalp Maha-rally in Lucknow on the anniversary of her mentor and BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s death.

Maurya said she would target the Akhilesh Yadav government for cancelling the day’s status of public holiday, granted by her in May 2007 in one of her first acts as chief minister. Kanshi Ram died on October 9, 2006.

Support to Centre

Mayawati will tomorrow announce her continued support to the UPA government despite her opposition to FDI in retail, Maurya said.

That would provide relief to the Centre at a time Mulayam Singh Yadav has been keeping it on tenterhooks with confusing signals following Trinamul’s pullout.

Over two lakh BSP supporters are expected to attend the rally.