A gathering of elders at a hamlet of Kushwahas — a most backward caste — in the Saidpur assembly constituency in Ghazipur district, takes a while before opening up.
“Mayawati’s government has been as good or as bad as all governments have been,” Keval Singh says. After some initial evasion, someone finally declares: “We had voted for BSP in 2007, but not this time.”
It is not unusual for a particular group to switch loyalty between two elections, but the discontent among Kushwahas with the BSP in Saidpur is illustrative of a huge tactical disadvantage that incumbent chief minister Mayawati faces in constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes.
In 2007, it was in SC constituencies that the Brahmin-Dalit core of Maya’s social rainbow played out in its full strength — as no other party could put up a Brahmin candidate, the community voted in full strength for the Dalit put up by the BSP. Others gravitated towards this combination easily and the victory was phenomenal — BSP won 62 of 89 SC seats, nearly one third of its total tally of 206.
As the Brahmins are showing clear signs of abandoning Mayawati, her toughest battle is in these constituencies — where the candidate is Dalit but there is no other caste strength to add on to it. The increased militancy and consolidation among her core voters is visible— but is evidently not good enough, as her own supporters admit. “Dalits of all castes would mostly vote for BSP, but all others will vote against it,” says Manish Gautam, an articulate, 18-year-old Dalit boy, who has been recently recruited by the Indian Air Force.
Until Mayawati’s Dalit-Brahmin coalition trumped it in 2007, the Samajwadi Party had been doing well in SC constituencies — in 2002 assembly election, the SP had 34, while the BSP had only 24. Between 2002 and 2007, the BSP’s overall number of seats went up by 100%, but its SC seats went up by 250%. In 2009 Lok Sabha elections — by when already the rainbow coalition was weakening — of the total 23 seats won by the SP, 10 were reserved.
While the SP is hoping such natural factors to play out, the Congress has started ‘Mission-85,’ a special drive focusing on reserved seats — four less than in 2007 — after delimitation of constituencies.
Led by IAS-officer-turned Congress MP BL Punia and young Dalit face Ashok Tanwar MP, a special task force has been deployed in the SC constituencies. “Dalit candidates are not well versed with techniques of electioneering. We are supporting them in that,” says Tanwar. “We will get at least 40 of the reserved seats,” claims Punia.
In Saidpur, the consolidation against the BSP seems to be favouring the SP. The gainers can be different across constituencies; but there appears to be only one loser.