The results of the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh have thrown up big surprises. While BJP won with a massive mandate, the second biggest in Independent India, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), one of the most formidable forces in the state, has been completely decimated.
From 207 seats in 2007 to 84 in 2012, the party has snagged only around 18 in 2017. Even so, the BSP is still clinging on to about 22% of the votes, close to the Samajwadi Party’s vote share.
To put this number in context, the Apna Dal, which has Anupriya Patel as its main face and ran from the 11 seats granted to it from the BJP, is winning 10. SBSP, another ally of the BJP, could also win four.
This low number may not be enough even for Mayawati to retain a Rajya Sabha seat once her term ends and could lead to absolutely no representation of her party in the Rajya Sabha. BSP could not even win one seat in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.
A real crisis
The BSP, which has been a one-woman show for nearly two decades after Mayawati sidelined Kanshiram as the electoral face of the party, may face an existential crisis after today’s result. It's clear her core vote could shift its vote to the BJP in the next polls.
After a complete rout in 2014, Mayawati sought to build new alliances to shore up BSP’s chances. When she saw a section of her core voters, some Jatavs, the non-Jatav Dalits and the EBCs moving towards the BJP, she revived Kanshiram’s idea of a Dalit-Muslim alliance.
Chasing the minority vote
To make it work, her cadre, and other allied organisations like the (Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation) BAMCEF went around laying the ground through local ‘Bhaichara sabhas’. To woo the Muslims she fielded more than 100 Muslim candidates. Only a handful of them, a total of just six have won or are leading, shattering her idea of this dream alliance.
Her aggressive outreach to Muslims, in a bid to wean them away from the SP-Congress alliance, some local politicians say, gave the BJP the ammunition to push the idea of how now even the BSP is doing the politics of appeasement. The charge so far had been used against Mulayam Singh’s SP.
However, in this election, in a bid to do away with this image, Akhilesh Yadav did not followed Mulayam Singh’s stylesheet of electioneering where the latter would openly woo the Muslims.
Akhilesh's assumption was that the alliance with the Congress was enough to send a message to the minorities. This assessment may not have been wrong seeing the voting patterns in especially Muslim dominated constituencies, but BSP’s huge list of Muslims was enough to ensure BJP was able to convincingly argue against this ‘politics of appeasement’.
“It was the first step towards a polarised election,” one SP candidate from Western UP had told Catch. Most of her Muslim candidates came from rich backgrounds, while some of them had a really bad track record including Yaqoob Qureshi and Mukhtar Ansari.
However, the Muslims may give her another chance. “They have voted in such large numbers for the SP. Don’t be surprised if they decide to go with Mayawati’s idea of Dalit-Muslim alliance in the last polls thinking it would be more helpful,” a Muslim politician explains.
That the Dalit-Muslim alliance failed to take off on the ground would make it difficult for Behenji to even retain her Dalit vote base in the next polls. A lot of her supporters were vocal in this elections on how they would want to see Mayawati back in power for she has been out of action for five years now.
Winning with a large margin
“If her voters start seeing that there is no real difference in their life even during the time of a BJP government, why would they want to stick to the BSP?” asks an academic.
Now with BJP in power in UP, these voters would have seen more than two years of the BJP government till UP sees the next election, the next Lok Sabha polls.
That BJP is gunning for this vote share has been visible in the past couple of years, the way PM Modi has been continuously working on his pro-poor image and has considerable support among the youth especially, cutting across party lines. Like BJP President Amit Shah said today how the BJP was working towards a new politics of moving away from the decadent ideas of caste, dynasty and appeasement. This should worry Mayawati.
“The fact that BJP has won with such a huge margin would actually ensure that BSP’s candidates do not defect. For now nobody needs them,” a politician explains how it would have been difficult for the BSP to keep her flock together if the BJP had fallen a few short of majority.
But with the Lok Sabha polls just over two years away, how will the BSP survive?
Could the Bihar style Mahagathbandhan work in UP? Opinion is sharply divided. While Mayawati would be more desperate to save her fortunes than the SP which just completed a full term in UP, it is not clear how the alliance would play out since Yadavs and Dalits have had a tumultuous history on the ground, mostly because of competing political forces.
But it may not be very difficult. “If the leaders who created this artificial divide in the first place come together, they would also be able to neutralise it and make this alliance work on the ground,” a SP MP explained how “this was the most natural alliance in UP’s context” since it would bring together all the marginalised sections.
Mayawati is not known to be fond of alliances. In the past too, she has been able to rebuild the BSP even in face of mass defections - like in 1997.
In the run up to the campaign she is learnt to have rubbished Congress’ overtures for a pre-poll tie up before the latter approached the SP.
But would she buy the idea, especially in the face of an aggressive BJP? In the absence of any other option, she just may.