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Big test for the BSP’s big tent

Mayawati’s 2007 formula for success is up against formidable odds this time

Written by RAHUL VERMA |
February 8, 2012 2:08:44 am

Mayawati’s 2007 formula for success is up against formidable odds this time

With every passing day in the run-up to assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh,the stakes are rising for the Bahujan Samaj Party and its leader,Mayawati. In 2007,her government became the first single-party-majority government since 1985. In a state that has seen 19 chief ministers and 31 governments in the 60-plus years of its existence,Mayawati is also going to be the first CM of UP to have held office for the full five years of her term.

However,looking past all these records,there are four compelling reasons to believe that the BSP’s performance in this election will be closer to its 2002 tally (98 seats) rather than 2007,when it secured 206 seats.

First,despite the popular notion that caste determines the outcome of UP elections,at the end of the day,even those who support this line are only convinced of Dalits voting for the BSP and Yadavs for the Samajwadi Party. Observers of UP politics agree that the upper caste vote would be more or less divided between the Congress and the BJP. They also agree that the Muslims in this election would vote for all players — SP,BSP,Congress and smaller players like the Peace Party,Ulema Council,etc.

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Eventually,the OBC voters (minus Yadavs) will play kingmakers in the upcoming polls. The BSP does not seem to realise that its social engineering of accommodating upper caste leaders has come at the cost of marginalising OBC leaders within the party. The OBCs formed the core of Kanshiram’s Bahujan philosophy. After the exodus of Kurmi leaders like Sonelal Patel,Ram Lakhan Verma,Jang Bahadur Patel and others,around 1995,many other lower-OBCs communities like the Pal,Nishad,Rajbhar and Sainis,are being sidelined in the party’s hierarchy. An analysis of the social profile of BSP candidates after 1996 or a glance at the list of sitting BSP MLAs who have been denied tickets in this election confirms this trend. The acknowledged reason for Mayawati’s success — the coming together of Brahmins and Dalits — has been unravelling since the 2009 election. Despite this,Mayawati’s decision to give almost one-fifth of the party tickets to Brahmin candidates,and abandoning the established leadership among the OBCs,could bleed the BSP.

In the run-up to the elections,there has been much talk of the Election Commission’s order to cover up Mayawati’s statues,which may have “angered the Dalits”. The problem with such an argument is that it sees Dalits as emotional captives of a political party,and unlike voters of any other social group that would reward or punish a government based on its performance. By not offering anything substantive in the last five years,the BSP-run government has failed to meet the rising aspirations of upper and middle classes among the Dalits. A big chunk of the lower OBC voters are showing signs of moving away from the BSP in the Poorvanchal and Bundelkhand region,as many new political parties like the Rashtriya Lok Manch of former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh,Bundelkhand Congress led by Raja Bundela,Apna Dal,Mahan Dal,etc,are exclusively courting lower OBC voters in this region. The Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh could definitely encroach on the BSP’s Muslim vote base in the Rohilkhand and Doab region. These parties may get only a few thousand votes for themselves but the effect of the combined erosion of votes from Dalits in addition to the lower OBCs and the Muslims will upset the party’s electoral calculus.

The BSP’s performance prior to the 2007 elections was limited to Poorvanchal,Bundelkhand and Avadh regions of the state. In the 2007 elections,the BSP gained across the state. This uniform distribution of party’s vote base will affect the BSP’s prospect in terms of seats. The electoral history of the last decade suggests that the BSP’s seat conversion ratio improves dramatically as soon as it touches the 29 per cent vote mark. In the 2009 elections,the BSP’s vote share was 27.4 per cent,which was almost three percentage point up from its performance of 24.7 per cent vote share in 2004,but there was absolutely no change in the seats despite the party being either the winner or the runner up in 67 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 elections in the state. There is little disagreement even among the party’s sympathisers that the BSP is in no better position than it was in 2009.

Lastly,many have been arguing that Mayawati’s move of sacking ministers and denying tickets to close to a 100 legislators will help her in countering anti-incumbency sentiments. Unfortunately,political parties in UP do not recognise that the language of conducting politics has changed profoundly in neighbouring Bihar. Mayawati’s engagement in similar rhetoric of proposing fourfold division of the state,writing letters to demand quota for different communities,etc is unlikely to convince the UP voter this time. The stories of the turnaround in Bihar will be on the voter’s mind. Her government has little to showcase in terms of policies,development,law and order.

The BSP’s possible debacle in the coming elections has been in the making,after its premature calculations of acquiring power in Delhi during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Instead of consolidating its base in UP,and courting its Bahujan constituency,the party marginalised its core cadres,and welcomed groups and leaders who not only weakened the BSP’s electoral machine but also the mission. The BSP’s single-handed victory in 2007 signalled an end to the era of hung assemblies,coalitions,widespead defection,and unstable governments in UP,but the 2012 verdict could well reverse the path.

The writer is a PhD candidate in political science at University of California,Berkeley

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