In Madhya Pradesh mrityu bhoj (feast organized by the family of dead) is a big thing, particularly in the Malwa region, some 200km from capital Bhopal. Also known as tehravin (the 13th day), it marks the end of mourning period. On this day, the entire village joins the grieving family for a meal and remembers the dead.
But not the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The ceremony is a handy toll these days — the state goes to the polls on November 25. “They listen while they eat and you get an audience of thousands in one shot,” said party functionary Kailash Parihar in Rajgarh, around 200 km from here.
State chief Narwada Prasad Ahirwar is leading the way, hopping from one bhoj to another. Once he is there, a sombre affair turns into a political circus — even a dias and microphone are at hand. “People insist that I speak. Sometimes they delay the religious ceremony to hear me,” Ahirwar told HT.
What of places with significant Muslim or backward class population? For such areas, the BSP has laid out a poha (flattened rice, often a breakfast cereal) and dal-baati fare. “It’s an effective way to bond with the electorate, through the palate,” said a BSP functionary, one of the many tasked with “procuring” invites for leaders for every possible gathering.
Their brief: cash in on every occasion to connect and then, woo the voters.
The state is high on the party agenda. Nursed by Kanshi Ram since the 1980s, the party is desperate to make its presence felt in Madhya Pradesh. Aware that victory is not possible in this election, the BSP seems geared to play spoiler. “This time around we want to register our presence,” says Radhey Shyam Somatia, who idolises Kanshi Ram.
Simply put, the BSP wants to keep the Congress and BJP in check. The move is in tandem with the party founder’s strategy — lame-duck governments till the BSP wrests control. In UP, the party prospered during coalition rules. From contesting its first election in 1989, to wresting control, the party touched 100 in 2002 assembly polls. The number more than doubled in the last election. Now, it is Delhi the party eyes.
However, in MP, the party has set modest targets. Every worker must win over 50 voters and swamp electorate with publicity material. At macro-level, it’s banking on disgruntled elements within the Congress and BJP, particularly once candidates are named. “The exodus will give steam to the BSP’s chugging train. We need potential winners till our cadres are ready,” says Somatia.
As for Mayawati, she has drafted party vice-president Raja Ram to spearhead the campaign. While he has been camping in the state for some months now, several of Mayawati’s cabinet members have been touring the state. But Madhya Pradesh is not UP. The BSP has a marginal presence. Its influence is restricted to the northeastern parts. Between 1998 and 2003 its fortunes hit a low — from 11 seats to two in a House of 230.
As for voters, they dismiss the BSP on grounds that this election, like all others in the state, is a straight contest between the BJP and Congress. The BSP is neither a force nor a factor to contend with. Worse still, its candidates are faceless. Take for example Sanchi’s Chote Lal, he knows he’s a nobody. “People know the leader, the party and the haathi (elephant, BSP’s election symbol). And more importantly, they want a change” Or, so he hopes.