New Delhi: The political party founded by Kanshi Ram on 14 April 1984 to represent the underprivileged castes now has a good chance to put its leader in the prime ministerial chair later this year.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) completed 25 years on Tuesday, just two days prior to the start of the 15th general election. Some analysts believe this election could be critical in defining the next phase of the party’s growth and, depending on the outcome, project its leader Mayawati as the next prime minister.
Jumbo moment: Mayawati with a silver elephant gifted by party workers. PTI
In fact, the Left parties and other non-Congress, non-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) parties that agreed to form an alternative third political front are hoping that Mayawati would join them to stake claim to form the next government.
While party faithfuls believe their moment has arrived, analysts caution that future growth will depend crucially on the ability of the BSP to back up its social engineering, wherein it has been able to coalesce various caste groupings under the so-called Sarvajan Samajwith welfare programmes.
The BSP, which is the only political party that has by choice declined any pre-poll alliance, is so focused on the general election that it has even ignored its important milestone.
“Wait and see, the 15th Lok Sabha will be our celebration. Our endeavour to get as many as MPs in Parliament should not get distracted,” said Ambeth Rajan, BSP member of Parliament and the party’s national treasurer.
From being a party that had forfeited its deposit in 222 constituencies in 1989, the BSP is fielding almost 500 candidates for the April-May elections to the 545-member Lok Sabha. Mint had reported on 2 April that the Congress is expected to field around 400 candidates and the largest Opposition party in Parliament, the BJP, will contest 430 constituencies.
In this period, the BSP has also been able to rapidly improve its finances, giving it a financial power comparable with national parties such as the BJP and the Congress. As Mint had reported on 30 September, after a review of the party’s income tax submissions, the balance sheet of the BSP—which was elected to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2007—on 31 March 2002 showed fixed assets of Rs98,000. The following year, it jumped to Rs58 lakh and by the end of 2005-06, it rose to Rs11.73 crore.
Alongside, it has steadily improved its electoral numbers. According to figures made available by the Election Commission of India, the BSP got 23.19% votes in the 2002 assembly polls and 24.67 % in the 2004 general election in Uttar Pradesh. It won 206 of the 403 seats in the May 2007 assembly elections, winning 30.43% of the votes in the most populous state, which had long been a bastion of the Congress, the BJP and the socialists.
According to a study by Marketing and Development Research Associates, a New Delhi-based research consultancy, the party’s vote share rose from 4.5% to 6.5% in Chhattisgarh; 4.8% to 11% in Madhya Pradesh; 2.5% to 14% in Delhi; and from 3.2% to 7.6% in Rajasthan in the recent state elections.
While its initial growth was based on consolidating the Dalit vote, it has gradually begun to attract Muslim votes. The success of the party in the Uttar Pradesh polls was managed on the ability of Mayawati to bring Dalits and Brahmins on the same platform.
“We proved that we are the only party that works for all the needy—be it the backward community or the exploited or the economically backward upper castes,” argued Rajan.
Political analyst Bidyut Chakraborty, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi university, sees a similarity between the rise of the BJP—which had won only two seats in the 1984 elections, but became the single largest party in 1996—and the BSP.
“In democracy, it provides surprises. I find three reasons for the BSP’s growth. First of all, it is because the social base of all the political parties has now become fragmented. If the Congress earlier represented the Dalits, Muslims and the underprivileged, they have realized that it was not doing good. Secondly, due to the introduction and successful implementation of reservations and good education makes these sections empowered, which is articulated by the BSP at this stage. And now the possibility of Mayawati becoming the prime minister has become an emotional point for the Dalit constituencies,” said Chakraborty.
But Chakraborty did not see a bright future for the party unless it combines social engineering with programmes. “There are other parties vying for these constituencies. Mayawati, personally, is not very democratic. If the BSP wants to flourish, she has to prove as good administrator, who delivers developmental packages. Sloganeering can win you votes, but it cannot provide sustainability.”
However, some politicians and analysts believe that the recent turn in Uttar Pradesh politics could yet scupper the BSP’s strategy. While logically the polarization forced by the inflammatory remarks against Muslims by BJP candidate from Pilibhit, Varun Gandhi, would shift the minority vote towards the BSP—at present the dominant political force in the state—in practice this may not be so.
“In this polarization, the BSP may not get any advantage in terms of Muslim support unless some miracle happens at the last moment,” said a senior Left leader.