New Delhi: Will Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) turn out to be the dark horse of the ongoing election to the Uttar Pradesh state assembly?
On form, having drawn a blank in the 16th general election and based on opinion polls, BSP is ranked behind the incumbent Samajwadi Party (SP) and its challenger Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
However, interviews conducted across Uttar Pradesh suggest that the BSP is not a pushover. Indeed if this is true then the party has the potential to roil electoral calculations.
Across several constituencies, based on interviews, it is apparent that Mayawati, four-time chief minister, is hanging onto her loyal Dalit vote bank and in some instances even winning over a section of the Muslims. This is particularly true in western Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bundelkhand and eastern UP, where electorate claimed they will continue to support haathi chaap (elephant is BSP’s poll symbol) mainly because they feel law and order situation was better under the former chief minister’s tenure.
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Part of the reason is that the BSP has recalibrated its initial electoral strategy. Also, the Dalit voter is always understated in their preference and as a result rarely get included in the poll chatter—often the dipstick to assess the political mood.
“Initially we were focussing on a combination of Dalits-Muslims-Upper castes to vote for us. That is still happening in the backdrop but now rigorous efforts are also being made to reach out to the OBC vote. As we reach the middle of the election, the aim is now to prevent the non-Yadav OBC vote from shifting towards the BJP," said a senior BSP leader who is part of the campaign strategy.
Even in 2012, when BSP lost power to SP, the party’s vote share was 26%—enabling it to win 80 seats. In the 16th general election, when it failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat, it had a vote share of nearly 20%.
In fact, for the last two decades the BSP has averaged a vote share of at least 20% in each assembly election; even in 1996, when it managed only 19.64%, the party won 67 assembly seats.
Dalits (20.7%) and Muslims (18.5%) together form more than one-third of the state’s total population according to Census 2011. To address these two groups, the party has given tickets to 99 Muslims and 87 Scheduled Caste candidates.
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“Dalits are not given a fair opportunity in the state. During Mayawati’s government, there was at least control on the law and order situation. The government also took special interest to improve the condition of Dalits and OBCs in the state. We would like those times to come back," says 40-year old Sasikala in Mehnagar constituency in Azamgarh district.
Inspired by the feedback from the ground level, particularly with respect to the lack of governance, the BSP has also embarked on a door-to-door campaign in the final three phases of the polls.
“Nobody has done any work for us. Our payments got delayed when demonetization was announced and we would stand outside banks at 3 am to withdraw whatever little money we had. The law and order situation is so bad that we constantly feel threatened. We feel restless till our daughters reach home safely. We would go to work and live freely when Behenji was heading the government," said Mool Singh, a 47-year-old labourer who lives in the constituency town of Kalpi in Jalaun.
Political analysts say Mayawati could play the role of kingmaker in case of a split verdict. “Mayawati can be the kingmaker in Uttar Pradesh because since the mid-1990s BSP has always got a vote share between 20-25% while seats have fluctuated between 60-90. Mayawati wins in UP only when her voter share increases beyond 25% to around 30% because of the support from other castes, social groups and she doesn’t rely only on a specific community to get votes," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst and director of Voter Mood Research.