As electoral combinations are discussed ahead of Assembly elections in UP, it is sometimes believed that a solid Dalit base and likely Muslim support — adding up to 40% of the vote — can put the BSP in the driver’s seat. It is assumed that Muslims, upset after a series of communal incidents, would move away from the ruling SP. Results of past elections, however, show that not only has Mayawati’s Dalit vote shrunk, she has found the going difficult without support from other — read upper — castes.
The Shrinking Dalit Vote
Of the 19 seats the BSP won in UP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, just 5 were SC seats — fewer than a third of the total 17 SC seats. In 2009, the year the BSP recorded its highest tally of 20 in UP, its share of the SC seats ironically fell further — to just 2. By contrast, 10 of the 22 seats that the SP won in that election were SC seats. In the next Lok Sabha election, 2014, Mayawati polled nearly 20% votes but got zero seats.
In the 2012 Assembly polls, the BSP got 25.9% votes, not far behind SP’s 29.13%. But it could win only 15 of the 85 reserved constituencies, as the SP swept up 58 seats in the core Dalit belt.
The BSP’s electoral heft is not in question. In 2009, it was second at 47 seats, losing several by margins of less than 5,000, as it fought a direct contest in 67 — over 85% — of the 80 seats. But obviously, it wasn’t just the Dalit vote that powered the party.
Had it been so, the BSP wouldn’t have gradually disappeared from the SC seats. And it does seem odd, for instance, that Agra, which has among the highest concentrations of Dalits in the country, has never had a BSP MP.
Successive polls have seen Mayawati lose a portion of both the Jatav and non-Jatav vote to the SP and BJP. More than any other party, the BSP needs other communities. This is precisely why Dalits are never given the BSP ticket except in the reserved seats.
The Brahmin Factor
“Ek Brahmin apne saath saat chhoti jaati lekar aata hai (One Brahmin brings along 7 lower castes),” a former BSP MP, now with the BJP, underlines the nature of caste in UP, and the significance of the Brahmin vote. It is less than 10%, spread across the state, and rarely goes to any party en masse. It has few leaders, is rarely wooed as middle and lower castes are, but has considerable influence over local sentiments. The BSP was quick to recognise its importance — backed by the realisation that while Jatavs have had a long history of violent conflict with Thakurs, Jats, Yadavs and even Muslims, they’ve perhaps never clashed with Brahmins. Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Misra, and the Upadhyay family of Aligarh, led by Maya’s former minister Ramveer, have held important positions in the party for around 2 decades.
The BSP’s 2007 victory — with over 30% votes — was largely because Maya put Misra in front and fielded a large number of Brahmins, who suddenly allowed the BSP to speak for “sarvajan” and “social engineering”. However, in 2014, even as Maya gave 21 out of 80 tickets to Brahmins — the most to any caste — not one could win.
“It’s wrong to believe that Brahmins voted for Mayawati in 2007. They voted for their community member as there was no option,” said the former BSP MP. This year, Maya has fielded some 50 Brahmin candidates, perhaps their largest representation ever.
The Myth of the ‘Muslim Vote’
Muslims are Mayawati’s big focus this election — she has given around 125 seats, a UP record, to them. Her pointsman Naseemuddin Siddiqui and his son Afzal are going to the community with the message: “UP did not have a single Muslim MP in 2014. Do you want the same in the Lucknow Assembly?”
Unlike the Dalit vote, the BSP’s Muslim base has increased over the last decade — it got 9.7% of the Muslim vote in 2002, 17.6% in 2007, 20.4% in 2012. But she would need 60% or 70% to form a government only on the strength of a M-D combination.
“Many Muslims have traditionally disliked Jatavs and Valmikis,” says Mathura tailor Amir Khan. UP is full of tales of conflict among Jatavs and Valmikis, and upper caste Muslims like Shaikhs, Saiyads and Pathans.
“The BSP needs to focus on upper castes, both among Hindus and Muslims. Prosperous Muslims vote for the SP,” says Mumbai-based trader Nadeem Siddiqui, who is originally from Barabanki and visits UP often, and is a vocal BSP supporter on social media.
“BSP has given tickets mostly to lower caste Muslims,” Siddiqui said. These lower castes include Qureshis, Ansaris and Sulemanis.
“I admire Mayawati for law and order, but Pathans or Shaikhs wouldn’t necessarily vote for a Qureshi or an Ansari,” says Khan, a “proud Pathan”. “I am in several WhatsApp groups (of Muslims). They support SP,” he says.
Obviously, the Muslim vote, like the Hindu vote, is not a monolithic block. It is fragmented along caste lines, and local candidates are often as important as the party.
Even if half of Mayawati’s Muslim candidates — 60-odd — win, and she also gets 60 of the 85 SC seats — she has just 15 now — she will reach just 120, about 80 short of majority.
Also, if Muslims are seen polarising towards one party, Hindu consolidation, cutting across castes, would be the inevitable consequence. UP saw it in 2014, when the BJP snatched even some Jatav votes from Mayawati.
“She has no core vote among any other caste except that of Jatavs and some other Dalits. The other castes vote for the candidate she fields, not for her,” says the former BSP parliamentarian. Which means the BSP needs some upper castes in a major way — and a lot rides on what her 50-odd Brahmin candidates are able to draw.