Why SP and BSP are reluctant to take advantage of CAA turmoil in UP?

While for the BSP, street protest against the amended citizenship law is a no-no, the SP is allowing sit-ins only
For Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), street protests are strictly a no-no. For Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party (SP), demonstrations and sit-ins are acceptable, provided these “do not go out of hand”. As Uttar Pradesh went through a deep turmoil, following the agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the crackdown on dissenters, the SP and the BSP, the state’s principal Opposition parties, remained strangely muted in their response and reacted through social media and press statements, although both voted against the Bill in Parliament.


When the Congress — ironically the only entity to challenge the CAA on Uttar Pradesh’s streets — implored the Opposition to join its rank-and-file, Mayawati directed BSP workers to dissent through “posts and mail, and memoranda”. “The BSP lacked a coordinated strategy. The right hand did not know what the left was doing,” admitted a party functionary. The functionary said Mayawati was preoccupied with “settling and unsettling” the BSP’s internal caste equations by shuffling around its 10 Lok Sabha members and the UP office-bearers.


In the eight months of the 17th Lok Sabha, Mayawati replaced the BSP’s parliamentary party leader five times. Last week, Amroha MP Danish Ali was dropped for the second time and Ritesh Pandey, Ambedkar Nagar MP, was brought in on the ground that “social balance” had to be maintained. Pandey is a Brahmin as is Satish Chandra Mishra, the BSP’s Rajya Sabha leader. The move to bring in Pandey was criticised by Kunwar Fateh Bahadur Singh, a retired Dalit bureaucrat believed to be a key Mayawati adviser.


In a tweet, Singh asked whether the presence of two Brahmins at important parliamentary posts was a prong of the “fundamental social transformation” which Kanshi Ram, the BSP’s founder, had envisaged. Singh’s jab evidently hurt Mayawati. In a series of tweets posted shortly thereafter, she underlined that in the UP Assembly and Legislative Council, the BSP was helmed by backward caste and Dalit representatives, while the state party was headed by a Muslim, Munkad Ali. 


“On Mishra’s counsel, it looks like Mayawati is again trying to play the pro-Brahmin card she used before the 2007 (Assembly) elections, little realising the scenario has changed. The Brahmins are embedded in the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). If they get disillusioned, they will migrate to the Congress and not my party,” a BSP source said.


Unlike the BSP, the SP has a legacy of fighting an establishment, especially a BJP-ruled one, on the streets. “It was the hallmark of our politics when Mulayam Singh Yadav headed the party,” recalled an old-timer.


What’s happening?


Anand Bhadauria, a Legislative Council member and close Akhilesh aide, said: “We are not less combative. Who has fought more for Muslims than the SP? But we have to be careful not to convert the CAA protests into a Hindu-Muslim binary and give the BJP an advantage.”


Therefore, while it is believed that the SP and its former ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), independently shored up the strength of the civilian protests in West UP that bore the brunt of police repression on the minorities, local leaders “lay low”. “Had we been a bit more pro-active, the polity could have got communally polarised,” an RLD source said. Even at the women-spearheaded serial “dharna” in Lucknow’s Husainabad clock tower, the city’s SP leaders took the backseat and resisted the “temptation” to politicise the ongoing event. Except when Tina, Akhilesh’s 14-year-old daughter, turned up one morning and sat with some young friends from La Martiniere school. “It was a family decision, which we came to know through the social media,” a source said.


Anurag Bhadauria, the SP’s spokesperson, maintained that while the party might not have been “upfront” in challenging the CAA, it registered its opposition in “democratic ways”. He said Dharmendra Yadav, former Badaun MP and Akhilesh’s cousin, called on the families of the victims who were killed in police firing in Meerut, Bijnore, Firozabad, and other places and handed out a Rs 5 lakh solatium to each. Rajendra Chaudhary, another spokesperson, said the political thrust was to “shift the Muslim-only thrust of the CAA to its impact the poor, regardless of religion and caste”. “Already the poor have approached us for help to get the mandated documents. While well-off Muslims have their papers, does a poor Saini, Mallah, or Dalit have a birth certificate and property papers? Most of them don’t. The citizenship package is anti-poor and that is our central message,” said Sunil Singh Yadav, also a Legislative Council member. The SP’s stated stand is that its leaders and members will not fill in the required forms.


The sources conceded the Yadavs, who constitute the SP’s core support, had expressed reservations over the “non-cooperation” stance. “Half of our Yadavs moved to the BJP in 2019. Our first task is to regain their votes,” a source said.


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