UP election: Is Mayawati giving up on the Brahmin vote?
Mayawati's "rainbow alliance" in Uttar Pradesh has passed into history, or so it seems. With every party trying to forge favourable caste coalitions ahead of the assembly election early next year, the BSP is focusing on a Dalit-Muslim consolidation.
This is a clear departure from the party's earlier strategy of bringing together Dalits, Muslims, non-Yadav OBCs and upper castes.
Constituting 13% of the population, the Brahmin vote bank is seen as the "king maker" in UP's electoral politics. Mayawati, however, plans to field only 28 Brahmins in the upcoming election - UP has 403 assembly seats - if former BSP leader Brajesh Pathak is to be believed.
Pathak went over to the BJP last week, his defection a fallout of the BSP's new strategy to "ignore" Brahmins. A two-term MP with influence in Hardoi-Unnao region, Pathak was a prominent Brahmin face of the party and a key architect of the caste engineering that enabled Mayawati to take power with a majority in 2007. The successful social alliance was epitomised by the slogan, "Brahmin shankh bajayega, hathi Delhi jayega (The Brahmin will blow the conch, and the elephant will march to Delhi)", referring to the BSP's election symbol.
In 2007, the BSP fielded 139 upper caste candidates, 86 of them Brahmin. It won 206 seats with 30% of the vote. In 2012, the party fielded 117 upper caste candidates, including 69 Brahmins, but lost power to the Samajwadi Party.
Pathak insisted that the BSP didn't win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election because it ignored Brahmins. "This time, the party has given tickets to only 28 Brahmins, 10 of whom lost the previous election," Pathak added.
Political observers give this explanation for the BSP's change in tack: in the backdrop of attacks on Dalits and Muslims by cow protection vigilantes, the party wants to give more tickets to these communities to array them against the BJP.
In contrast to the BSP, all other major parties are going out of their way to woo Brahmins. The Congress, for example, has brought Sheila Dikshit back from political wilderness to project her as its chief ministerial candidate. The party's election strategist Prashant Kishor is reportedly willing to "play the gamble of giving 50% tickets to Brahmins in this election".
The BJP already enjoys strong support among the community. Its challenge is in consolidating its Dalit support base.
Brajesh Pathak alleged that the BSP no longer requires the support of Brahmins. He claimed to have tried to persuade Mayawati to increase the number of Brahmin candidates to 70, but the BSP chief was unrelenting.
Pathak also lamented that although he was the convener of the BSP's Agra rally, he was kept away from the stage. Not even his name was spoken from the stage.
It remains to be seen if the BSP's decision to shift its focus away from the Brahmin community pays dividends in the election.