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Explained: Why BSP is unravelling, and what it may mean in 2022 Uttar Pradesh polls

Formed in 1984 by Kanshi Ram, the BSP has faced many splits over the years, each coinciding with a shift of power in the state, and marked by breakaway leaders accusing the leadership of arrogance and lack of connect.

Written by Maulshree Seth | Lucknow |
Updated: June 16, 2021 7:54:31 am
BSP chief Mayawati

A series of events in Lucknow on Tuesday indicate the possibility of a split in the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). A group of rebel BSP MLAs met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and claimed that they would soon announce their own party.

History of splits

Formed in 1984 by Kanshi Ram, the BSP has faced many splits over the years, each coinciding with a shift of power in the state, and marked by breakaway leaders accusing the leadership of arrogance and lack of connect, and going on to support those in power (either BJP or SP) or forming their own fronts.

This time, there seems to be a divide with some MLAs keen to join SP and others preferring BJP depending on their own local equations. MLA Aslam Raini said Tuesday that they have the support of 11 BSP MLAs who would form their own legislature party, and the new leader would decide their future course of action.

The “guesthouse incident” of 1995, when BSP MLAs were allegedly held hostage to influence their votes, led to a series of defections. BSP founder member Raj Bahadur, a minister, defected with some MLAs to form his own outfit; general secretary Sone Lal Patel went on to form Apna Dal, a faction of which is in alliance with BJP today; and then BSP state president Jang Bahadur Patel too defected with section of MLAs.

In 1997, a section of MLAs led broke away and went on to support the BJP government led by Kalyan Singh.

In 2003, a section of MLAs again defected to extend support to then SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The current crisis started last year during the Rajya Sabha polls, when initially five MLAs including Aslam Raini met SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and alleged that their support to the BSP candidate was forged. BSP chief Mayawati suspended seven MLAs for anti-party activities. It is these MLAs who have again met Akhilesh and claimed that with Mayawati having recently expelled veterans Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar too, they have the support of 11 MLAs and can form their own group.

Why a steady exodus

Legislative Party leader Lalji Verma and national general secretary Ram chal Rajbhar had been with the party since founder Kanshi Ram’s time.

Among prominent leaders who have left or been expelled since 2016, their allegations were initially about extortion and arrogance of the leadership. Now, they complain about an unapproachable leadership. These complaints grew after the BSP broke ties with the SP following an alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Resentment increased after Mayawati openly said in 2019 that her party workers would rather support BJP to ensure defeat of SP candidates after some MLAs had met Akhilesh Yadav.

Those who have defected moved largely towards BJP before the 2017 Assembly polls, but largely towards the SP after that, especially after 2019.

In 2007, the BSP had prominent leaders to represent each section including Brahmins, non-Yadav OBCs and SCs. Many feel that it was combination of Dalit, Muslim and upper caste vote that led to its rise in 2007.

Since 2015, the exodus of founding members have included then BSP leader in the Lok Sabha Dara Singh Chauhan (expelled) who joined BJP, and Rajya Sabha MP Jugal Kishore (left) who too joined BJP along with former minister Fateh Bahadur Singh. In 2016, then Legislature Party leader Swami Prasad Maurya quit accusing BSP of taking bribes and deceiving Dalits, and the BSP’s Brahmin face Brijesh Pathak was expelled. Both are now BJP ministers.

Just before the 2017 polls, founder member and prominent “Pasi” face R K Chaudhary joined SP. He resented BSP so much that he quit SP when it allied with BSP in 2019. He joined the Congress, but this year rejoined SP.

After BJP won in 2017, Mayawati’s close aide Indrajeet Saroj quit and joined SP. Mayawati expelled another long-time aide, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, a strong Muslim face of the party, who later joined Congress.

How it affects party

Since 2007, when the party last formed the UP government with 206 seats out of 403 and a vote share of 30%, it has fallen to 80 seats (25%) in 2012 and 19 seats (22%) in 2017. Despite losing so many leaders, sources say Mayawati remains confident on holding on to the party’s base 18-20% vote share. She prefers to promote new leaders rather than agree to terms set by old ones.

“Why are leaders like Lalji Verma or Ram Achal Rajbhar, who have put their personal lives at stake to support the cause of the party, not given opportunity to vent their views? Following a call from Mayawati, Verma had returned to Lucknow within 24 hours of his son’s death. Even such leaders are suspended without giving them opportunity to explain themselves,” said rebel MLA Raini.

“The party has been completely digressed from the movement of Kanshi Ram. She is taking the party towards downfall by becoming increasingly unapproachable and increasing dissent. She likes to do things on her terms and thus opinions or suggestions against that view are unacceptable. While there is no denying that there is still a section of Dalit that regards her as their leader, how long will that continue if they feel she will not fight those who have oppressed them?” said Chaudhary.

What now

The recent setbacks have raised the question: who gains from BSP’s losses, if any, in the 2022 Assembly polls?

In 2012, when BSP’s loss translated into SP’s gain, there was strong anti-incumbency and BJP was nowhere in the fight. However, BSP leaders started becoming more uncomfortable ever since Mayawati’s statement said that her leaders would rather support BJP than let SP candidates win. Then, the SP-BSP alliance showed that BSP’s vote share would not shift to SP. It is therefore obvious that BJP would now try to woo BSP’s Dalit voters in the upcoming Assembly polls.

But again, since there has not been a major shift in the base vote, observers feel the BSP might still be an important player after the elections.

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