The BSP is back in the game in UP. The recent local bodies elections saw many BSP nominees winning at the cost of the BJP and the SP. In PM Narendra Modi’s model village in Varanasi, Jayapur, the BJP candidate lost by over 800 votes. Candidates supported by the BJP could win only nine panchayat seats out of a total of 48 in Varanasi district. The BSP scored over the BJP in districts including Hathras and Aligarh. In Ambedkar Nagar district, the BSP won 25 of 43 panchayat seats.
The results indicate that Dalit voters who did not back the BSP in the 2012 assembly polls or the 2014 general election are returning to the party. This win has boosted the morale of the BSP leadership, which is now gearing up for the 2017 assembly election.
The Dalit base of the BSP had got fragmented after the 2007 assembly election, which the party won, for various reasons. The backlash to Mayawati’s sarvajan (inclusive) politics was a factor that caused the BSP’s defeat in the 2012 assembly election. Sarvajan politics gave the impression that Mayawati was giving more importance to Brahmins and other upper castes than to Dalits. Sections of the Dalit community left the party and gravitated towards the SP ahead of the 2012 election. In 2014, many educated Dalits were attracted by Narendra Modi’s political agenda that mixed Hindutva and development. This section of the Dalit community is not happy with the BJP any more. Many Dalits who supported the BJP in 2014 feel that the party has not delivered development or created adequate employment.
Besides, the plans and policies of the SP government have made Dalits wary of the Akhilesh Yadav dispensation. The callous attitude of the SP towards Dalit welfare issues, a total decline in the law and order situation, and the injustice meted out to Dalits by dominant groups are pushing the community towards the BSP. The single most important reason for Dalit antipathy to the SP is the confiscation of their land by realtors. Dalits are also upset with the SP government’s decision to remove the provision in the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, that mandated that Dalits could sell their land to non-Dalits only after the approval of the district collector. The SP government’s decision to remove fixed quotas in jobs designed for employment promotion among Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) has also made the Dalits insecure. Besides, the government took steps to demote promoted SC and ST officials in the state. The insecurity among Dalits due to these government decisions is gradually transforming into silent support for Mayawati. Large sections of Dalits are once again convinced that Mayawati alone can fight for their rights.
In the 2012 assembly election and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, members of the numerically-strong Pasi caste had supported the BJP. In a bid to appease the Pasis, Mayawati has invited R.K. Chowdhary, a powerful leader of the Pasi community, who left the BSP due to differences with the BSP supremo a few years ago, to rejoin the party. Brahmins are also feeling politically alienated, having failed to land important positions in national and state politics. They may gravitate towards Mayawati since they had benefited from her sarvajan politics in the past. Kurmis, an important OBC community, which previously voted BSP, had aligned with the BJP in the 2014 general election. However, they failed to get representation in the BJP’s power structure and are now backing the BSP.
Mayawati has also started to woo the urban middle classes. During the Bihar assembly election, she declared that if the BSP won office in UP, it would not construct parks and statues, but focus on governance. Mayawati’s shift from identity politics to the politics of governance indicates that she understands the aspirations of the middle classes across castes. Moreover, the urban middle classes in UP have started to compare Mayawati’s tenure in office favourably with the Akhilesh Yadav government’s. She is credited to have had a better grip over law and order in the state. In western UP, a consolidation of Muslim, Dalit and Jat votes in favour of the BSP is now noticeable. A section of Jats, too, are lobbying for an alliance between the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the BSP.
All these developments clearly point to a revival of the BSP ahead of the 2017 assembly election.