An eerie silence envelops the largely deserted Lucknow office of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), just one month after the 2022 UP assembly election results. Party president Mayawati has barred party members from talking to the media. Three men who maintain visitor records are sitting together, looking very bored. It is noon, but the office has not had a single visitor today. “The election is over, so why are you here? Now nobody comes here unless there is a meeting or a press conference,” says one of the men. Rewind to 2007, when BSP had formed the government with a full majority on the back of a strong cadre base and was known for its alliances with several intermediate and upper caste groups. This year, it won just one seat in the assembly elections and is facing mass desertion.
In 1973, BSP founder Kanshi Ram first constituted the Backward and Minority Community Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in an attempt to create a network of educated lower caste people and a Dalit consciousness that would distinguish the Dalit-Bahujan movement from other upper-caste dominated parties. After BAMCEF, Kanshi Ram formed Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) in 1981 as a ‘cultural wing’ in Punjab to mobilise the Dalit youth, students and women, before it expanded in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal and Haryana. Both BAMCEF and DS4 played a crucial role in establishing the BSP cadre base in North India.