A BSP supporter at Mayawatis rally near Lucknow sports a headgear that has a doll-like figure of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar and the BSPs elephant symbol. (Reuters)
Lucknow, Nov. 27: Mayawati today addressed five lakh people at an event openly labelled an OBC rally in quest of an ever-elusive goal: the support of the Other Backward Classes.
She drew huge cheers from the crowd, at least a quarter of them OBCs, as she portrayed Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar as the architect who paved the way for the 1990s OBC reservations.
The chief minister, facing a Congress onslaught and unsure of Brahmin backing this time, is desperate for a slice of the states 35 per cent OBC vote that tends to favour her chief rival, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
A solid Dalit-OBC vote bank is the dream of every heartland politician but has never been achieved for any length of time. The two caste groups have remained divided despite the best efforts of those like Mayawatis late mentor Kanshiram.
Mayawati had not held a single OBC rally during the 2007 poll campaign, when she forged an alliance with the Brahmins. But two weeks ago, she told her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers to start wooing the backward classes.
A huge arrangement of trucks, food and various lures ensured that there were enough Yadavs, Kurmis and Gujjars at the Ramabai Ambedkar Maidan, 30km from Lucknow.
Political analysts, though, questioned how much of this would translate into BSP votes. Mayawati, on the other hand, believes that even a small gain can be crucial.
The Dalits and the Other Backward Classes shared common problems in Uttar Pradesh, which is why Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar had made a provision under Article 340 of the Constitution for their welfare, she told the crowd.
The Article asked the Centre to appoint a commission to study the OBCs condition and implement its recommendations.
It was on the strength of this section that the Mandal Commission was set up and following its recommendations, reservations for this caste group was granted, the chief minister said.
Studies have revealed that the BSPs pro-Dalit agenda — the party is backed by 65 per cent of the Dalits — has alienated it from the OBCs.
A recent survey by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies showed that only four per cent of Yadavs had voted for the BSP in Uttar Pradesh.
In contrast, over 15 per cent OBCs had backed Mulayams Samajwadi Party. But the researchers also threw up an opening: many OBCs, despite having voted for Mulayam, remained non-committal about long-term loyalties.
Mayawati owes her initial rise partly to the OBCs, though. A Lucknow University professor said the only time Dalits and OBCs had come together was in 1993, when Mulayam and Kanshiram formed an alliance that appointed Mayawati as the states youngest chief minister at 39. But Mayawati and Mulayam soon turned sworn enemies and she had to quit office in 1995.