Bahujan Samaj Party

Missed opportunities

Print edition : May 02, 2014

BSP chief Mayawati at an election rally at Sultanpuri in New Delhi on April 7. Photo: PTI

Mayawati's election rally in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, on April 4. Photo: PTI

THE Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has dropped a long way from where it was five years ago during the 2009 general election. At that time, party chief Mayawati projected herself as a potential prime ministerial candidate, and the BSP had great expectations of a performance that would matter in the Lok Sabha. But since then, the BSP’s fortunes have been sliding steadily. It lost in a big way in all the Assembly elections that have taken place in the past five years, including in the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections of 2012. In that election, the BSP tally dropped to 80 from its 2007 position of 203 seats. Its vote share also dropped from 30.4 per cent to 25.92 per cent. The primary reason for this debacle was the collapse of the sociopolitical coalition of Dalits and Brahmins that Mayawati had successfully forged in the 2005-07 period.

The BSP is generally known to be a party that fights back spiritedly to overcome electoral and political reverses. However, its track record since 2009 has not lived up to this description: in every Assembly election, including the 2012 elections in Uttar Pradesh, there has been a dip in the party’s seats and vote share. It was the same everywhere—in Bihar, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. The party did manage to get a better share of votes in Uttarakhand, but its seat share came down from eight to three.

While all these reverses were significant enough, the setback in Delhi was indeed large. In the December 2013 elections there, the party’s vote share dropped by a whopping 8.8 per cent and it lost both the seats it held in 2008. The party was looking to the Delhi elections as a political event that would help it force a hung Assembly in the national capital and thus dictate political terms. But as it happened, it was the year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that managed to do so. It was also evident that the AAP’s performance was boosted to a large extent by the depletion of the BSP’s core Dalit vote. The drop in vote share in other States from the previous elections is as follows: Himachal Pradesh 5.8 per cent, Rajasthan 4.2 per cent, Madhya Pradesh 2.7 per cent, Chhattisgarh 1.8 per cent, Gujarat 1.35 per cent, and Karnataka 1.7 per cent.

Assessments by party insiders and observers are that the BSP leadership, especially Mayawati, has not taken any concrete measures to stem this slide in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections too. These assessments also hold that objectively the BSP had several opportunities to get over the slump and reinvigorate the party organisation, but every time the leadership was found wanting. These opportunities had presented themselves most forcefully in Uttar Pradesh.

One such opportunity came during and after the Muzaffarnagar riots in August 2013. Allegations were rampant during the riots, which continued in spurts for as long as a month and a half, that both the Hindutva-oriented BJP and the ruling Samajwadi Party (S.P.) were involved in stoking communal passions. The BSP was expected to take a strong position in support of the minority Muslim community, which suffered the most in the riots and after. However, no such initiative came from Mayawati. According to sources in the BSP, the leader was diffident because sections of the Dalit vote base of the party had also become communally polarised in Muzaffarnagar and other parts of western Uttar Pradesh.

“Behenji was caught in a sort of dilemma and did not take a resolute position. That has worked against us since a large number of the minority community members have rallied solidly behind the S.P,” said a Lucknow-based BSP leader to Frontline. The consequences of this diffidence are even more damaging because significant sections of the Dalit support base of the BSP have gravitated to the BJP too.

Another opportunity that Mayawati failed to grab was the offer by the Congress to have an alliance with it for the Lok Sabha elections. Talks were held between the two parties in December 2013 and January 2014. Apparently, the BSP wanted seat adjustments in as many as 10 States, including southern States such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. For its part, the Congress wanted to have the alliance confined to four north Indian States—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. The talks collapsed even though public opinion in Uttar Pradesh, particularly among the Muslim community, held both the BJP and the S.P. responsible for the communal polarisation and this section would have naturally moved towards a Congress-BSP alliance.

In this context, the general impression about the BSP campaign, particularly in Uttar Pradesh where it is in the vanguard, is that it lacks its customary enthusiasm, cohesion and reach. Even so, there are several constituencies where the party is putting up a significant fight on account of the expanse and strength of its Dalit vote base. This strong core vote base also attracts a significant segment of the minority voters since they consider a secular party with a sizable vote base of its own as the best option to defeat the Hindutva-oriented BJP. These seats include Ghaziabad, Meerut, Bijnor, Amroha and Moradabad in western Uttar Pradesh and Khushi Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Jaunpur, Lalganj, Bhadohi, Ghosi and Basti in central and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The party has fielded candidates, as per convention, in a large number of States such as Bihar, Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, though both insiders and political observers do not think any of these candidates have a winning chance. In the final analysis, the BSP’s political future will largely depend on successful management at the micro level of the constituencies in Uttar Pradesh where it has a winning chance.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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