As vote base shrinks, is BSP losing ‘master key’ to political power in Uttar Pradesh? - Hindustan Times

As vote base shrinks, is BSP losing ‘master key’ to political power in Uttar Pradesh?

Apr 14, 2024 11:06 AM IST

In the run-up to 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP, which earlier emerged as the voice of the dalits and marginalised castes in UP, appears grappling with an existential crisis.

The ‘blue wave’ of political churning that started in Uttar Pradesh during the mid-80s and took the state by storm by mid-90s is now on the ebb. It was this big political upheaval created by the Bahujan Samaj Party that led its leader Mayawati to become the chief minister of the state for a record four terms, including the term of majority government from 2007- 2012. But the slide too has been rapid. Over a decade on, the BSP has lost the ‘master key’ to political power.

Is BSP losing ‘master key’ to political power in Uttar Pradesh? (PIC FOR REPRESENTATION)
Is BSP losing ‘master key’ to political power in Uttar Pradesh? (PIC FOR REPRESENTATION)

In the run-up to 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP, which earlier emerged as the voice of the dalits and marginalised castes in UP, appears grappling with an existential crisis.

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Despite retaining a significant and committed two-digit vote share that ranks as the third largest in the state, the BSP faces a critical challenge: its core support base alone may not suffice to clinch power unless the party embraces other caste alliances - an approach it has been hesitant to adopt.

In 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BSP is ploughing its own furrow instead of being a part of any alliance, which has led to the party being viewed as a spoiler rather than a serious contender. In 2022 Assembly polls, when it went solo, the party ended up getting only one seat.

The BSP’s evolution from being a dominant political force in 1990 and 2000s to a party primarily known as mere a ‘vote katwa’ (vote splitter) post-2012, tilting electoral balances in favour of one of the two main contestants without securing seats for itself, presents a compelling case study in UP’s electoral politics.

The BSP originated in 1978 as a government employees’ association - BAMCEF (Backward and Minority Committees Employees’ Federation) - conceptualised by Kanshi Ram, the mentor of Mayawati who currently leads the party.

Gradually transitioning into a political entity, it emerged from its predecessor the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Samiti (DS-4), set up in 1984.

Navigating the difficult political terrain of UP, the party finally attained the goal of seizing political power under the leadership of Mayawati, making her the first Dalit woman chief minister of UP in June 1995. She served as UP CM for a record four times.

The BSP’s success in the 1990s is attributed to Mayawati’s ability to successfully instill a hunger for self-respect and dignity among Dalits, particularly Jatavs. And by the mid-1990s she was able to consolidate various sub-castes among Dalits.

By the end of mid-90s, Mayawati successfully united various sub-castes under the BSP banner, becoming a prominent Dalit leader in UP’s electoral politics.

She was able to consolidate the various sub-castes. Though she came to power thrice through alliances, her stints in power were short-lived.

Realising that her core Dalit vote is numerically not enough to get her majority in the UP Assembly, in 2007 she moved beyond her core constituency, the ‘Bahujan’ to ‘Sarvajan’, a rainbow alliance of all castes with Satish Chandra Mishra projected as the party’s Brahmin face.

The strategy proved effective, leading her party to secure a majority with 206 seats in the 403-member Assembly. Consequently, she became the first UP chief minister to serve a full five-year term.

But the success of the BSP proved to be short-lived. Since its debacle in 2012 Assembly elections, it has experienced a swift decline, following the revival of the BJP in the country and UP.

The BSP drew a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, won 19 seats in the 2017 assembly elections, and 10 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2019, the party joined hands with the SP, its beta noir then, and became part of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. The BSP benefited most from the alliance but walked out of it before 2022 Assembly polls.

As a result, in the 2022 Assembly polls, the BSP managed only one seat ( Rasara) in Ballia district, securing just 12.8% of the votes, its lowest since 1989, when it got 9.46% of the votes.

Mayawati’s leadership was pivotal in creating awareness among Dalits about their rights and self-respect, helping her become chief minister four times.

However, her failure to expand the party’s base beyond its core constituency, to modify itself according to the need of the times, and of course Mayawati’s controversial leadership style, all contributed to the BSP’s decline.

According to Badri Narayan Tiwari, a scholar of Dalit politics, the reason for BSP’s downfall is the BSP itself.

“Unlike Kanshi Ram, BSP’s founder, Mayawati, his successor, lacked flexibility to attract other castes to expand the base of the party. She didn’t nurture and encourage a second-tier leadership within. Moreover, Mayawati could not meet the evolving aspirations of many Dalits seeking development over identity politics,” he explained.

Shashi Kant Pandey, a political scientist and professor at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, highlighted Mayawati’s autocratic approach, aloofness and failure to adapt as the key factors in the BSP’s decline. “For example, many party stalwarts who played a key role in making the BSP a formidable political player in UP, deserted the party one after another, but she made no attempt to retain them or introspected reasons for their quitting the party they built, deepening the party’s challenge in the state” he pointed out.

The decline of the BSP coincided with the BJP’s resurgence at the Centre and in the state. After the defeat of the BSP in 2012, many Dalits started to anxiously look for an alternative to fulfil their aspirations for economic betterment having already attained a certain level of identity and self-respect.

Capitalising on Dalit aspirations and shifting allegiances, the BJP swiftly promised rapid economic development in its election campaigns in 2014 and 2017.

The BSP captured 80 seats with 25.9% of the votes when it lost power to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2012. Its fortunes dwindled further in 2017 when it secured only 19 seats with a 22.4% vote share.

After the 2017 elections, most people believed that the party had reached its lowest possible level beyond which no further slide may happen. In 2022, however, the BSP’s vote share drastically plummeted to 12.9% with just one seat to it.

Had the party reach the nadir in 2022 or will its slide continue in 2024? While making any prediction in this regard may be risky at this juncture, observers like Pandey suggest that BSP’s prospects in 2024 LS polls appear bleak given its dismal performance in the 2022 Assembly polls, and more so because it is going solo.

“At the most, it can cut a few Dalit and Muslim votes to the disadvantage of the SP-Congress alliance and corresponding advantage of the BJP-led NDA,” he opined.

However, the BSP still commands a committed and loyal vote share.

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    Brajendra K Parashar is a Special Correspondent presently looking after agriculture, energy, transport, panchayati raj, commercial tax, Rashtriya Lok Dal, state election commission, IAS/PCS Associations, Vidhan Parishad among other beats.

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