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The rise and rise of Bahujan Samaj Party

From forfeiting its security deposit in 222 parliamentary constituencies in 1989, the Bahujan Samaj Party, that champions cause of underprivileged, has emerged today as the fastest growing political party in India.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2007 16:18 IST

From forfeiting its security deposit in 222 parliamentary constituencies in 1989, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), that champions the cause of the socially underprivileged, has emerged today as the fastest growing political party in India.

Not only is BSP now talked about as the frontrunner in the current elections in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous and politically key state, but it stunned everyone by bagging as many as 15 seats in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on Saturday.

With just one pan-India leader, a former schoolteacher from Delhi who is extremely proud of being a Dalit, Mayawati is catapulted to become one of the biggest vote-catchers in Indian politics.

After Saturday's first round of polling for a new Uttar Pradesh assembly, most exit polls predicted that the BSP was poised to finish on top of a fractured 403-seat house, ahead of even the ruling Samajwadi Party.

And to expand BSP's appeal, Mayawati has deftly given up the caste hatred the party exhibited during its early years, which did help it to draw Dalit votes in millions, eroding the foundations of the Congress party.

After successfully wooing Dalits and low-caste Muslims, BSP is now openly embracing Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh besides the bania community as well as Jats, giving the jitters to other political parties.

"BSP has made use of the inability of the Congress or Marxists to influence Dalits. It is the logical end point of democracy that the section in the lowest rung is emerging on the top," political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan said.

"BSP has been trying to get the grip where the Congress failed. The BSP has been reaching out and wooing the subordinated groups," he added.

It wasn't that easy once upon a time.

In the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP lost its security deposit in 222 of the 246 seats it contested because it could not garner the minimum six per cent votes.

Since then, however, it has continued to expand, initially purely on the strength of its Dalit and later Dalit-Muslim support base.

The growth is remarkable considering that most other parties in Uttar Pradesh are decades old (Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party) or socialists who have been in politics for a long, long period.

And last week, the BSP, founded by Kanshi Ram in April 1984 as a party of the Dalits, triggered shock waves by winning 15 seats in the Delhi civic body polls - a sharp jump from the one seat it won five years ago.

Political analysts pointed out that Dalits were clearly deserting the Congress for BJP even in Delhi.

In Uttar Pradesh, where the staggered assembly elections end in May, Mayawati has for the first time given the ticket to as many as 85 Brahmins.

Rangarajan said BSP had given up its initial hate but catchy slogans like "Tilak, Taraju aur Talwar, Inko Mmaro Joote Char!" - an appeal to Dalits to rise against the dominant Hindu communities.

The militant appeal of BSP was magnetic, and its growth amazing.

It won only three seats in the 1989 parliamentary elections with 2.07 per cent votes. Its vote share in 1999 was 4.16 per cent. This went up to 5.33 in the last general election when it won 19 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Mayawati, 51, has already been chief minister of Uttar Pradesh thrice and, if the exit polls prove to be correct, may don the mantle yet again.

GVL Narasimha Rao, another political analyst, explained that the BSP has deftly used other political parties to promote its interests and dumped them at its sweet will.

"Mayawati joined hands with the Congress. But when she realised that the Congress had eaten into her vote share, she took no time to break the alliance," Rao said.

"And when she realised that her appeal needed to be improved, she changed her strategy. She introduced a large number of upper castes in the party," he added.

Rao said BSP was the only party increasing its vote share consistently.

When it aligned with the BJP, secular parties predicted doomsday for BSP. That did not happen, and it continues to enjoy the support of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

The BSP wins elections on its own strength without, as Mayawati once pointed out, depending on movie stars to draw voters.

"It has a single leader. It does not want even need the media to reach out to its voters. It loves to link with its voters directly," Rangarajan said.

But it has not been a success story everywhere.

The BSP's growth has stagnated in Punjab, and it has also failed to expand the way it would want to in states like Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

Yet in large parts of India, the BSP is a success story. It fights more and more elections, wins more and more seats, and even when it does not win, it ends up a spoiler.

Nobody ignores the BSP any more.

First Published: Apr 10, 2007 15:24 IST