New Delhi: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s prime ministerial ambitions received a rude jolt on Saturday after her party managed to win or was leading in just 20 seats in the general election, half the 40 it had expected.
Dashed hopes: BSP’s poor showing in Uttar Pradesh means chief minister Mayawati has to put her prime ministerial ambitions on hold. Nand Kumar / PTI
Some experts see the outcome of the elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, as a sign of the BSP’s fading appeal for Dalits, who are at the bottom of the caste pyramid and constitute the party’s main vote base. Even Muslims, seeking an alternative to the BSP’s main rival, the Samajwadi Party (SP), seem to have preferred to vote for the Congress rather than the BSP, the experts said.
Mayawati, who had aspired to become prime minister as a key member of the so-called Third Front, a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political formation, led the BSP to power in Uttar Pradesh two years ago when the party managed to secure a majority in the state assembly on its own.
“The BSP is faced with some erosion in its Dalit vote bank. This is particularly true of the Dalits other than Jatavs (who form the core of the BSP vote), who have started drifting away from the party,” said Praveen Rai, a psephologist at the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies.
Rai also said that the party could not attract Muslim voters, who have clearly moved away from the SP to the Congress. Mayawati’s social engineering skills, which attracted the upper castes to the predominantly Dalit party in the last assembly elections, had not really worked this time, he added.
Dalit writer Chandra Bhan Prasad also said the BSP may have begun to lose Dalit votes. “People have a grouse with the BSP on account of the lack of development in the state,” Bhan said. “They are looking at the hundreds of Ambedkar statues that have come up around the state and saying to themselves: ‘what a colossal waste of money.’”
That’s a reference to B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution and a Dalit icon.
A senior BSP leader said the party had expected to win at least 40 seats during a review a couple of months ago. “It is too early to say what was lacking in our programme,” added the BSP leader, who didn’t want to be identified. He admitted that the party would be forced to take a political back seat on account of the “superlative” performance by the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. “There does not seem to be much work for the Third Front at the moment,” he conceded.
The Congress won or was leading in 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh, raising its tally from nine in 2004.
The BSP won 19 seats and 24% of the votes polled in Uttar Pradesh in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections; its vote share rose to to 30.43% in the 2007 assembly elections. The SP won or was leading in 23 seats, down from its tally of 35 in 2004.
Meanwhile, the main reason for the SP’s decline is a waning of its appeal for the Muslims, experts said. A section of the party’s Muslim leadership was estranged from the party after SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav offered a party ticket to former chief minister Kalyan Singh’s son.
Kalyan Singh, then with the BJP, was the Uttar Pradesh chief minister when the disputed Babri mosque was demolished by Hindu vandals in December 1992.
A feud between SP general secretary Amar Singh and senior leader Azam Khan may also have alienated Muslims.
The SP will decide on Sunday whether to support a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre in case the alliance falls short of a majority. “Our parliamentary board will meet tomorrow (on Sunday) and decide our future strategy,” Mulayam Singh Yadav told reporters in Lucknow.
The SP supported the Congress-led UPA government after the Left in July withdrew its support to the ruling coalition to protest the government’s decision to go ahead with the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. The SP and the Congress failed to reach a pre-election seat-sharing agreement in Uttar Pradesh.
Asked about the party’s dwindling strength in the Lok Sabha, Yadav said: “We accept the verdict of the people with humility. We are not worried at all.” On arch-rival BSP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh, he said: “I do not consider it as our competitor.”
PTI contributed to this story.