BJP, Congress fortunes hinge on ‘spoiler’ BSP

BJP, Congress fortunes hinge on ‘spoiler’ BSP

New Delhi: Most of the states, especially Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan, that will have elections by the end of the year, will, for the first time, see the presence of a significant third political force vying with traditional rivals—the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

8f78d816-9a08-11dd-940e-000b5dabf613.flvUttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, which is seeking to carve out political space for itself in these three states, may actually end up playing the role of a spoiler for both major parties rather than stake a serious claim for power, say many analysts.

Indeed, in Gujarat state assembly elections last year, the BSP didn’t win a single seat out of the 166 it contested, but influenced the outcome in close contests by weaning votes away from the Congress. The BJP went on to win the Gujarat elections comfortably.

It isn’t just the BSP. Traditional electoral math is also being upended in Andhra Pradesh, which is expected to go to the polls next year with national elections. Film star-turned-politician Chiranjeevi’s newly launched Praja Rajyam party is emerging as a serious spoiler to the ruling Congress and the main opposition Telegu Desam Party, or TDP.

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Meanwhile, the BSP has already declared that it would contest all the assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. The party has so far named its candidates for 190 of 200 assembly and 13 of 25 Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan, 66 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats and 62 of Madhya Pradesh’s 230.

Elections will be held in Madhya Pradesh on 25 November, Delhi on 29 November and Rajasthan on 4 December, the Election Commission announced on Tuesday.

“In the present scenario, the BSP will remain a spoiler. It is squeezed in between the Congress and the BJP as they have not declined in these states as in Uttar Pradesh," says Sudha Pai, a professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“The BSP, which is obviously a rising star and a force to reckon with, is not a winnable party but will eat into the Congress’ share of support base," maintains Bidyut Chakrabarty, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi University. “Both the BSP and the Congress draw on same social combination of Dalits and Muslims."

The BJP holds 173 seats in Madhya Pradesh and 120 in Rajasthan—both of which it governs—while the Congress has 38 and 56 seats, respectively, from the 2003 elections. The Congress, the ruling party in Delhi, won 47 seats in the Capital to 20 for the BJP.

The number of seats the BSP wins would primarily depend on Mayawati’s ability to translate her skills in social engineering—pleasing the upper castes and the Dalits equally—into votes, Chakrabarty said.

If the performance of the BSP in the Delhi municipal elections in April 2007 is any indication—it got 9.9% of the votes cast—Chakrabarty suggests the party could win at least 18 seats.

In the 2003 assembly elections, the BSP had obtained 7.6% of the vote share resulting in two seats each in Madhya Pradesh, while in Rajasthan it managed to win the same number of assembly constituencies with 3.97% of the vote share.

“I think the BSP’s votes will (come) from various directions, not from just one party," said Manvendra Singh, BJP member of Parliament from Barmer in Rajasthan. “But it is not going to make much impact as people do not want to waste their votes."

But the situation in Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh will be different, political leaders say.

“If Chiranjeevi could gain ground, a large section of TDP votes and its discontented leaders could go to his party. In that scenario, the Praja Rajyam (party) has the scope to be the second largest party," says V. Kishore Chandra Deo, a veteran Congress MP from the state.

But some Congress leaders are also concerned that Chiranjeevi, who has been drawing large crowds for his meetings, would take away some of their votes. “If he succeeds in transforming the crowds into votes, he will eat into vote share of both Congress and TDP," concedes Arun Kumar, a member of the Congress working committee, the party’s highest policymaking body.

Meanwhile, a third grouping also seems to be emerging in Tamil Nadu too, where it has always been a straight contest between the two largest parties in the state—the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK, led by chief minister M. Karunanidhi and the All India Anna India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK, led by J. Jayalalithaa. Actor Vijayakant’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, or DMDK, has been in talks with other parties, including the Congress, now a part of the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance.

Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint

Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu contributed to this story.