Only two seats, yet BSP doubles its vote share

Only two seats, yet BSP doubles its vote share

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, may have won just two of the 69 seats it fought in the Delhi assembly elections, but in at least 30 constituencies it tilted the scales decisively, demonstrating that it possesses influence beyond its traditional support base.

While the BSP dented the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prospects in nearly 20 constituencies, it spoiled the Congress party’s chances in 10, according to data released by the Election Commission. In these electoral races, it won more votes than the victory margin of the main contestants.

The BSP, which fielded candidates in all the 69 constituencies that went to the polls— Rajinder Nagar did not vote because the BJP candidate there died—won 13.5% of the total vote share, at least double the 5.76% it garnered in the previous elections in 2003.

While the BSP managed to win at least 10% of the vote in 40 assembly constituencies, it got at least 20% in 15 of them; in some instances it obtained at least 30% of the votes polled.

Also See BSP Breakthrough (Graphic)

The Congress under chief minister Sheila Dikshit won power in Delhi for a third straight term with 42 seats. The BJP won 23 and the BSP two.

In five constituencies, the BSP emerged as the runner-up and eventually finished as the third largest party in the Capital’s electoral race, in what has been traditionally a straight contest between the BJP and the Congress.

The BSP’s performance underscored that its appeal goes beyond its traditional base— the socially marginalized. Political analysts differ on which party is worse off because of the BSP’s presence in the race.

“If you take the outer Delhi constituencies, the Congress had polled 42% votes there in 2003, but it has come down to 33% and the BSP’s vote share has gone up to 20%. So one can draw the conclusion that the BSP has taken away its votes," said Sanjay Kumar, political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Kumar said the BJP had also been affected, but less so than the Congress.

“The Congress was expecting the BSP to take away some of its votes and was prepared for it. But the BJP was hit because of its complacency," said N. Bhaskar Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies. The BJP had underestimated the BSP, Rao said.

The immediate implication of the improved performance—party leader Mayawati claimed similar improvements in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan—is a likely boost to efforts to cobble an alternative at the national level to the Congress and the BJP in time for the general election due by May 2009.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, which is leading this initiative, was quick to make the point in a statement it released after the state polls. “It is significant that non-Congress, non-BJP parties have garnered a better percentage of votes in these four states which have had a bipolar polity so far. This opens up the scope for a third force to emerge in these states in the future," the party politburo said.

The BSP’s vote share in Madhya Pradesh, where it won seven seats, was about 8.8%. In Rajasthan, it had a vote share of around 7.6%, winning six seats.

Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor of political science at the Delhi University, also predicts that Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party would be a crucial player in the Lok Sabha elections.

“The BSP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, in terms of the outcome, will definitely be a critical player though not a big player. The party (BSP) has increased its vote percentage in all these states as compared to the last elections. So obviously there has been an upward movement.

“As for the question about which party gets most hurt by the BSP, conventional wisdom draws on the fact that the BSP’s support base is that of Dalits which happens to be the traditional constituency of the Congress. However, now with Mayawati’s social engineering, this entire proposition is being questioned because the BSP is cutting into the vote share of both the Congress and the BJP," said Chakrabarty.

Both the Congress and the BJP dismissed such theories.

“In the elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan—where the BSP wanted to make a deep dent—their card did not work. Delhi is principally a cosmopolitan state; caste polarizations do not work. Had it been a rural setting such as in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, it may have worked. I doubt whether this analysis holds true," said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP spokesman.

Congress leader and minister of state for steel Jitin Prasada also said Monday’s election results had “crushed" Mayawati’s dream of coming to power at the Centre.

“All the talk about BSP emerging as a major power has been deflated and it remains a bunch of claims," Prasada said.

Rahul Chandran and Utpal Bhaskar contributed to this story.

Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint