Building a Bahujan Front: Kanshi Ram and the OBCs

Kanshi Ram was very much in favour of reservations for this group (OBCs), which he regarded as unprivileged. One of the BSP’s slogans has been ‘Mandal ayog lagu karo, kursi khali karo’

Extracts from India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North Indian Politics by Christophe Jaffrelot, Permanent Black (Orient Longman), Delhi, 2003, pp. 396–408.

  • The main objective of the BSP remained the same as that of the DS-4, the formation of a ‘bahujan’ front which would be able to seize power. This discourse was symbolised by the metaphor of the ball-pen, repeated endlessly by Kanshi Ram on platforms or before the cameras: the top of the pen represents the upper castes who, though being only 15% of the population, rule the country, while the pen itself represents the remaining 85% who have to become aware of their fate and of their numerical strength …
  •  Kanshi Ram tried to emerge as a spokesman for the Bahujan Samaj by advocating the interests of all its components including the BCs against the upper castes.
  •  Even before the Mandal affair, when the debate (in the Lok Sabha and outside) on the Mandal Commission Report was gaining momentum, Kanshi Ram emphasised the claims of the OBCs. This is evident from one of his speeches during the election campaign for the Vidhan Sabha of Haryana in 1987:
    The other limb of the Bahujan Samaj [in addition to the Scheduled Castes], which we call OBC or Other Backward Classes, needs badly this party [the BSP]. Thirty-nine years after independence, these people have neither been organised nor have they obtained any rights. Improvements have been produced in the legislation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Castes, but nothing similar has happened for these people.
  • He thus admitted that in some respects the conditions of the Scheduled Castes were better than those of the OBCs. He also concluded that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes had a larger presence in the bureaucracy than the OBCs because of reservations. The number of OBCs is 50 to 52% but we don’t see any of them as District Magistrate. The issue which is special for us, is that reservation is not a question of our daily bread; reservation is not a question of our jobs, reservation is a matter of participation in the government and administration. There is democracy in this country. If 52% of the people cannot participate in the republic, then what is the system in which they can participate?
  •  Kanshi Ram was very much in favour of reservations for this group [OBCs], which he regarded as unprivileged. One of the BSP’s slogans has been ‘Mandal ayog lagu karo, kursi khali karo’ (Implement the Mandal Commission [Report] or vacate the seat [of power]). This was part of his strategy of constituting the Bahujan Samaj into a political force and therefore the BSP undoubtedly benefited from the atmosphere created by the ‘Mandal affair’ and tried to tap the OBC vote at the time of elections.
  •  In 1999 Lok Sabha elections Kanshi Ram made this policy more systematic since he decided to nominate candidates in proportion to caste and community composition of society. Out of 85 candidates he fielded 17 Muslims (20%), 20 Scheduled Castes (23.5%) 38 OBCs (45%) and 10 upper castes (12%) – 5 Brahmins and 5 Rajputs.
  •  The share of the OBCs is even more important among the state party office-bearers than among the BSP MLAs. Most of these lower caste leaders come from the Most Backward Castes, and not from the larger Backward Castes which often employ – and exploit – Dalits as labourers. Surprisingly, Dalit office-bearers are less than half as numerous as the OBCs. Even though power lay in the hands of a Chamar, Mayawati, … the BSP’s image as a ‘Dalit party’ does not fully reflect the reality since the Scheduled Castes do not account for the majority of office-bearers and party candidates (or MLAs) in Uttar Pradesh. This picture, however, is more in tune with the social profile of its electoral basis.
  • [Regarding] Kanshi Ram’s strategy, our study of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh suggests that he has continuously tried to transform the party into the crucible of the Bahujan Samaj, by aggregating the Dalits, the OBCs and, lesser extent, the Tribals and the Muslims. However, his efforts to expand his party beyond the Dalits have not been entirely successful since the BSP receives only a small fraction of votes from the OBCs.

Published in the March 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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