Madhya Pradesh assembly polls 2018: Understanding the BSP caste arithmetic
Sumaoli assembly constituency (AC) in Madhya Pradesh’s Morena District went to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2013. Neetu Satyapal Singh of the BJP won the seat with 40% of the votes polled. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) finished second with 31% votes.
Sumaoli assembly constituency (AC) in Madhya Pradesh’s Morena District went to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2013. Neetu Satyapal Singh of the BJP won the seat with 40% of the votes polled. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) finished second with 31% votes. The Congress finished third with 27% votes.
When HT visited Sumaoli village, after which the AC is named, it found considerable anti-incumbency, as indeed there is across the state, one reason why the BJP has dropped 53% of its sitting legislators. To be sure, anti-incumbency is not the only factor which affects results. It generates headwinds for the ruling party, but the opposition has to get its act together to convert anti-incumbency into tailwinds for itself.
Given that the BSP finished second in this seat in 2013, it should have a strong claim on this seat in this election. Yet, it is the Congress which seems to be gaining from this anti-incumbency. The reason is simple. Ajab Singh Kushwah, who was the BSP candidate from Sumaoli in 2013, has been fielded by the BJP this time.
The incumbent BJP MLA is not contesting. The BSP candidate Manvendra Singh Sikarvar is related to Neetu Satyapal Singh, the incumbent MLA. The Congress has repeated its 2013 candidate, Adal Singh Kansana, here.
Things are not very different in Dimani AC, also in Morena district. Dimani elected Balveer Singh Dandotiya (a Brahmin) from the BSP in 2013. The Congress, which had fielded a Tomar (Rajput), finished second.
This time, the Congress has fielded a Brahmin, while both the BJP and the BSP have fielded Rajput candidates. When HT spoke to young Tomar men in Dimani village, they were worried that the Brahmin candidate could gain from the division of Rajput votes.
The BSP factor has been generating much more attention in Madhya Pradesh this time, especially after its alliance negotiations with the Congress failed to materialise.
Yet, the anecdotes above underline the hazards of relying too much on BSP’s headline vote share numbers for predicting the 2018 results. A lot of BSP candidates are locally influential characters, who are amenable to contesting elections from a national party like the BSP, but not very committed to its larger politics. This does not make the BSP’s politics very different from what other parties practise on the ground. Winning elections is not all about figuring out the local caste arithmetic. But a lot of it is.
A careful analysis of the BSP’s performance in Madhya Pradesh since 2003 supports this argument. The BSP has won 13 assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh since the 2003 elections. Nine of these were on non-reserved seats, which means the candidate was neither a Dalit nor adivasi. This suggests significant reliance on votes from other caste groups too.
Read more: Vote share in 2013
To be sure, the BSP’s vote share in Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved seats was higher, albeit marginally, than non-reserved seats in 2008 and 2013. SC reserved constituencies have a higher proportion of Dalits in the total population. This suggests that the BSP might have some sort of a committed vote bank among the Dalits.
When HT visited Sumoali, the BSP campaign vehicle was only doing rounds of the Dalit settlements to make announcements for a Mayawati rally and ignoring upper caste neighbourhoods.
However, as the AC type-wise seat share analysis shows, this vote bank is not sufficient to ensure electoral victories for the BSP. It would have been one thing had the BSP enjoyed an overwhelming support among the Dalits in Madhya Pradesh but this is, at best, the situation in a few pockets in the state.
Read more: Win map in 2013
See the chart above: BSP seat share and vote share by AC type in 2003, 2008 and 2013.
The arguments given above are not meant to discount the BSP’s political presence or how it will impact the 2018 election results in Madhya Pradesh.
However, they do help us understand why the Congress and the BSP could not agree on an alliance formula in the state. The BSP as it works on the ground in Madhya Pradesh is very different from the cadre-based Dalit party it is perceived to be by most political commentators.
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