The most surprising part of the 2014 elections was the overwhelming performance of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh — it won 71 out of 80 seats. But why was the BSP completely wiped out? It did not win a single seat even though it has a strong Dalit, most backward and sarvjan base.
In 2009, the BSP won 27.42 per cent of the votes and 20 seats. This time, it garnered 19.6 per cent votes — nearly 8 percentage points less — and didn’t win a single seat. In UP, just the support of Dalits, who comprise 21.6 per cent of the population, would not have won Mayawati many seats. For Dalit votes to be converted into BSP wins, other social groups have to be on board. When Mayawati realised the low probability of getting backward caste votes, she started her “social engineering” campaign by bringing Brahmins, upper castes and traders into the BSP fold. This strategy was successful in the 2007 assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In this election too, she gave tickets to 20 Brahmins and 19 Muslims in order to woo their communities. But this did not work. Apart from upper castes, nearly 60 Dalit and most marginalised communities, which felt neglected by the BSP, voted for the BJP. But Mayawati succeeded in retaining her Jatav vote base, which comprises 12 per cent of the Dalit population.
In its first phase, the BSP under Kanshi Ram had tried to bring together the most marginalised, backward and Muslim communities under one party. But because of the social conflict between backwards and Dalits, this did not work.
There was a conflict between dominant Dalits and the most marginalised Dalit castes, which the RSS had been trying to bring into the BJP fold through its “social harmony campaign”. By giving tickets to Pasis, Sonkars and Rawats, the BJP tried to woo the most marginalised Dalit castes away from the BSP. The BJP tried to convince voters that Mayawati had not done anything constructive for Dalits. It also invoked Ambedkar and other Dalit heroes, promised a Bharat Ratna for Kanshi Ram and organised political meetings in Dalit hamlets with the help of RSS-affiliated social organisations.
Other BJP-RSS strategies for making inroads into the BSP vote bank included participating in the caste associations of the most backward castes and stoking Hindu polarisation in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The BJP also portrayed Mayawati, who was seen as a beneficiary of Muslim consolidation, as unsympathetic to Hindus. In addition, the most backward castes were also promised that the social justice committee report prepared by the Rajnath Singh-led BJP government in UP would be implemented and reservations in education and jobs would be granted.
The BSP was also unable to keep up with the changing aspirations and mindset of Dalits and backwards. A dominant middle class, which used social media, had already emerged in the backward castes. The BSP was unable to communicate with this group while the BJP and Narendra Modi were adept at such outreach. This time around, the BSP contested from many parts of the country and Mayawati concentrated more on them than on UP, which she may have taken for granted. Her campaign in UP also started late. There has been disillusionment among grassroots Dalits because the BSP has not launched a big political movement among them for some years now.
The anti-Modi vote was distributed among the SP, BSP, Congress and AAP, because of which no party won a seat. Forward castes voted in large numbers for the BJP while Muslim voters were confused about which party had the highest chances of winning against the BJP. This confusion was damaging for the BSP.
Thus, the BSP’s loss was the result of a combination of Narendra Modi’s backward caste card and the aggressive campaigning by the RSS-BJP combine. Thanks to Hindu polarisation and the mirage of development, a Modi storm was created in UP, because of which the BSP lost its traditional voters.
In this situation, the challenge before the BSP is to reorganise itself for the forthcoming 2017 elections. Mayawati has already dissolved all committees of the BSP in UP except the state committee. But she should form a direct connect with grassroots Dalits and win back their confidence. She should also understand their changing desires and explore new ways of communicating with middle class Dalits, who are emerging as opinion makers on social media networks. The laidback attitude of the party has to go. BSP members should recharge themselves for forthcoming elections.
The writer is professor, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, University of Allahabad