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Silently, like BSP
It’s been preparing a Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin alliance. Can it rock the BJP’s boat in UP?
While attention has been riveted on the shrill electoral campaign of the BJP and SP in UP, much less attention has been given to the BSP. This is surprising because it is the only party in UP whose vote percentage has remained more or less steady after it peaked, going up from 9.93 per cent in the 1989 national elections to 20.61 per cent in 1996.
After this, it has remained between 20 and 24 per cent. Moreover, apart from its core constituency, the Dalits, the BSP has added the support of other communities through its sarvajan strategy to capture power. Despite the centrality of the communal issue, Dalit votes will help shape the electoral verdict in UP. Also, the BSP could emerge as the party that a section of Muslims will support, particularly in western UP.
One reason for the lack of attention paid to the BSP has been the low profile maintained by Mayawati and the relatively few election rallies held by the party. The importance of the Dalit vote is evident from the fact that all political parties are attempting to gain a share of it. Following the 2012 assembly elections, studies had argued that a section of Jatavs, unhappy with Mayawati’s support to the Brahmins, had shifted loyalty to the SP. Following the Muzaffarnagar riots, there have also been reports that Dalits in western UP have shown sympathy for riot-affected Hindus and a segment of them may support the BJP.
Amit Shah’s recent communally-charged speeches also seem aimed at bringing Dalits into the “Hindu fold”. The Congress, unable to revive its Dalit base, made a discreet attempt, following its defeat in the five assembly elections at the end of 2013, to form a national alliance with the BSP. This would have helped the Congress obtain seats in UP and the BSP in states where the former has a strong base. The Congress hoped to persuade Mayawati and obtain a share of the Dalit vote as the BSP had lost considerable seat/ vote share in all the state assembly polls in December.
However, beginning her campaign in January 2014, Mayawati announced that the BSP would not ally with any party in UP or elsewhere. In a rapidly changing political situation, the BSP undoubtedly faces challenges from the ruling SP, the BJP under Narendra Modi and, to a smaller extent, from the Congress. But there are indications from the ground that the BSP is actively making preparations. The party is contesting over 500 seats across the country, though UP remains its main focus. The BSP’s success has always lain in understanding the social composition of constituencies. In fact, in selected constituencies, it is putting a Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim alliance together.
Mayawati hopes to unite Dalits by giving tickets to Jatavs and other sub-castes, and attract Brahmin leaders ignored by the BJP. The changes in the pattern of the BSP’s ticket distribution in UP reflect these objectives: Dalits have been given 17 tickets, Brahmins and Muslims, 40, Thakurs, 8, while the number of tickets given to OBCs has declined to 15. Due to these and other steps, Jatavs in western UP, particularly in Mathura and Meerut, have taken the lead to declare support for Behenji.
The contest for the Muslim vote in UP is mainly between the BSP and SP; the Congress is a weak contender. Since the breakdown of the SP-BSP coalition in 1993, which defeated the BJP with the support of the Muslim community, these two parties have competed for the Muslim vote. Since 1996, the SP has been the preferred party while the BSP has been viewed as having compromised with the BJP to obtain power. But developments such as BJP leader Kalyan Singh joining the SP made Muslims unhappy, contributing to the BSP’s victory in 2007 and the Congress obtaining 21 seats in the 2009 national elections. In the 2012 assembly elections, Mulayam Singh Yadav was once again able to persuade Muslims to vote for the SP, enabling his party to obtain a majority.
Thereafter, the SP provided representation to Muslim leaders in the state government. However, the Muzaffarnagar riots, particularly the failure of the SP to control them — which many feel was deliberately calculated to keep Muslims in the SP fold and not allow them to move towards the BSP — have provided room for other parties, including the BSP, to woo the Muslim community.
In recent months, Mayawati has made efforts to convince the Muslim community that the BSP is a secular Dalit-based party with which Muslims have much in common. She has pointed out that while the BSP was in power (2007-12) there were no riots in UP as Muslim-Hindu “bhaichara (brotherhood)” communities were set up, and that the Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim alliance is an attempt to take the bhaichara concept further. Mayawati’s close aide, Satish Mishra, has visited Muslim clerics in western UP, reassuring them that the BSP would protect the interests of the minorities. Critical of the SP for fomenting communal divisions, Mayawati has promised that if supported, her party will prevent riots and honestly implement the Sachar committee report.
Some factors may help the BSP: its decision to give tickets to 18 Muslim candidates, high voting percentages in western UP recently, and the return of riot victims to their villages to vote, which suggests that Muslims may consider the candidate most capable of defeating the BJP. While there are reports that young Muslims in educational institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University might support the AAP, community leaders feel that by uniting, the Dalits, backwards and Muslims could defeat Narendra Modi. The Muslim desire to defeat Jat candidates could affect the Congress-RLD alliance, benefiting the BSP.
Two trends seem to be emerging in western UP. First, the fragmentation of votes between the SP, BSP and BJP, which means that the BJP may not gain the largest number of seats, as predicted. Second, as Muslims seem unhappy with the SP, the BSP could obtain a larger chunk of the Muslim vote in this election. The BSP has been making quiet preparations and seems to exude confidence in its own strength. It remains to be seen if Mayawati’s meticulous preparations will help the party consolidate the Dalit vote and obtain the support of the minority community.
The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies, and rector, JNU