In politics nothing is permanent. Last year after Uttar Pradesh results, everybody wrote off Mayawati as a political force. In Lok Sabha elections BSP couldn’t open its account, in Rajya Sabha it has only 4 MPs and in UP assembly elections it could bag just 19 seats. BSP has been losing Dalit votes across India. In UP state elections, one-third Dalits voted for BJP. However, recent turn of events in Uttar Pradesh, where she has formed a strategic alliance with its principal opponent SP, for the sake of survival, has changed things. The alliance (Mahagathbandhan / MGB) defeated BJP in three seats in by-polls and is threatening to make a significant dent into BJP stronghold in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
BSP is 3rd largest party after Congress and BJP
BSP is the third largest party in India with a vote share of 4.2% in 2014. It is the only regional party to contest pan India and has significant votes outside its home state. It received 70 lakh votess (31% of its total votes) in states outside UP. Other parties like Trinamool, SP and AIADMK influence is limited to just their home states.
Top 5 Regional Parties in Terms of Vote Share
BSP has a strong presence in the Hindi belt and in CG its vote share is higher than the margin of BJP victory. In other states Congress would benefit if it strikes an alliance with the BSP as it would help reduce the gap with BJP. Even in UP, its vote share is second only to BJP and higher than SP, highlighting its spread out vote share versus concentrated support of SP.
Recent Events Provide Her a Lifeline
The SC / ST Atrocities Act fiasco provides her an opportunity to get back the anchor Dalit vote, where BSP’s support has declined from 22% in 2004 to 14% in 2014. This along with tie up with SP gives her a lifeline. BSP has also formed strategic alliances in Karnataka (JDS) and Haryana (INLD). The party managed to win 1 seat in Karnataka and is also getting a ministerial berth. Party is looking to form alliances with Congress in Rajasthan, MP and CG where BSP has decent presence and may tilt the scale in favour of Congress.
Voting Pattern of Dalits
Mayawati has a proven track record of being able to transfer votes to alliance partners
A dedicated vote bank of largely Dalits and a section of Muslims ensure that Mayawati is capable of transferring votes seamlessly to its alliance partner. In 1996, the Congress fought state elections in alliance with the BSP. The BSP was able to transfer votes from its support base to the Congress. The Congress’ vote share on seats contested nearly doubled from 15.1 per cent in 1993 to 29.1 per cent in 1996. Even in Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Kairana by-polls of 2018 her supporters voted in favour of SP / RLD candidates at her one call ensuring MGB win.
BSP has a strong presence across all regions of UP and enjoys good support among poor class
BSP is the only party after the BJP to have a strong support across the seven regions of UP – Rohilkhand, Awadh, East UP, West UP, Doab, Bundelkhand and North East UP. This makes the BSP a cadre-based party like the current BJP and the old Congress. The difference between the low and high range of vote shares across seven regions according to the CSDS is the lowest for BSP at 4%, while it is over 12% for other parties.
Apart from the Dalits, who form Mayawati’s hardcore support base, BSP leader is the preferred choice also of the poor class (people below poverty line accounting for 30 per cent of UP’s population). Though her support has declined over the past four elections from 41% to 32%, she maintained her lead even in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls despite a strong Modi wave in UP.
However, Mayawati’s high handedness has caused massive exodus from party
Mayawati’s desire to have full control of the party after Kanshi Ram, has been detrimental to party’s growth in the Hindi belt. Party which used to have good presence in states like Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh could not position itself as an alternative to Congress and BJP. There is no second line of the party. One will struggle to name 5 leaders of BSP. Her attitude and promotion of family at the cost of party has led to exodus of leaders like Om Prakash Rajbhar and Sonelal Patel who floated SBSP and Apna Dal respectively, who together won 13 seats in UP 2017, just 6 seats of BSP tally.
Meaning Significant Challenges Remain
While party’s strategy is the need of the hour to remain relevant, there are certain issues with this plan of action. Mayawati is no more the firebrand leader of yesteryears, her speech lacks firepower, she reads from papers. She has to put in massive efforts and get back her oratorial skills. She needs to travel across India to emerge as the undisputed leader of Dalits. But does she have the energy and the stamina. The funding of the party after demonetization has received a big jolt and was evident in state elections. New organizations like JAYS are attracting Dalit youth. New leaders like Jignesh Mewani have sprung up and occupying the mind space of Dalits. Mayawati needs to come out of her shell and be seen as accomodative, open and interactive.
While alliance with SP and RLD will likely improve the score of BSP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it carries the risk of ceding space to SP in state assembly polls. The bad history between the two parties will always result in an element of distrust. The elephant needs a helping hand for sure!
(This article was first published in Swarajya.)