New Delhi/Raipur/Indore: With its support base dwindling in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati has prepared an unprecedented and meticulous election strategy for Delhi, where a three-way contest has already triggered concerns of the 4 December election producing a hung assembly.
BSP, the main opposition party in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, plans to hold at least eight election rallies that will be addressed by Mayawati, covering each of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi. The plan has surprised leading political parties, given that the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister has limited herself to two or three rallies during previous campaigns in Delhi.
The BSP, which relies heavily on its loyal Dalit support base, won just two seats in the 70-member assembly in the 2008 Delhi polls, but tilted the scales decisively in at least 30 other constituencies.
According to data published by the Election Commission then, the BSP dented the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prospects in nearly 20 constituencies and spoiled the Congress party’s chances in 10.
The Congress has 43 and the BJP 23 seats in the outgoing assembly. In a clear indication that she is setting much store by the Delhi elections, Mayawati personally interviewed all the 70 BSP candidates and gave them six months to one year to prepare for the polls.
“The BSP, which used to campaign throughout the state, has confined (itself) to this district, where the Dalit population is high," said Melaram Kure, a resident of Pamgarh constituency in Janjgir-Champa district.
Kanshi Ram, the late founder of BSP, chose Janjgir to fight his first Lok Sabha election in 1984. He failed to win the seat, but managed to consolidate the Dalit vote in the region on the plains of the Mahanadi river.
Political observers say that the BSP’s influence in the state is weakening because the party does not have a strong local leadership; it hasn’t tried to cultivate one. Sushil Trivedi, a Raipur-based political analyst, has predicted a drop in the party’s vote share, attributing it mainly to the disenchantment of the Satnamis, a Scheduled Caste community, with the BSP.
One of the two BSP legislators in Chhattisgarh, Sourav Singh of Alaktara, quit the party in July and joined the Congress, which observers saw as sign of the party’s waning influence.
But the BSP’s candidates in Masturi and Pamgarh constituencies are expected to put up a tough fight against opponents from both the Congress and the BJP.
Narayan Prasad, a resident of Kugda village, said the BSP had failed to protect the interests of Dalits in the state.
“The party could not take up the issue of reservation effectively. But it was the Congress that took up the matter," Prasad said.
The BJP government reduced the quota for Scheduled Castes in government jobs and universities from 16% to 12% in December 2011. The Scheduled Castes (SC) make up 12% of Chhattisgarh’s total population of 25.54 million.
Congress state unit chief and union minister Charan Das Mahant said: “So (after the reservation issue) the SC communities have turned against the BJP and these votes will not go to the BSP but will come to the Congress."
In Madhya Pradesh, where the Scheduled Castes make up 15.6% of population, the BSP kept a low profile in the 2008 elections.
In Rajasthan, which goes to polls on 1 December, six legislators who won 2008 elections on the BSP ticket, switched allegiance to the Congress in April 2009. This could be one reason the voters do not find the party to be a credible option in the region, political observers say.
“The BSP and Samajwadi Party have marginal presence in Madhya Pradesh," said Anil Trivedi, a Madhya Pradesh-based political analyst. “Both parties won a couple of seats in the state but the real battle is between Congress and BJP. The main parties have nearly 70% share in Madhya Pradesh and it has always been a two-way battle. There is very little space for a third party in the state." In Delhi, where the BSP doubled its vote share from 5.76% in 2003 to 13.5% in 2008, Mayawati is sparing no effort to take advantage of the confusion among voters caused by the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a potential alternative to the ruling Congress and the BJP.
“Earlier Mayawati used to be in touch only with the state coordinators in poll-bound states. However, this time she has personally interviewed all the 70 candidates in Delhi before clearing their names," said M.L. Tomar, a senior BSP leader in Delhi.
Tomar added that the party is focusing on the “Purvanchali" (people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) population in Delhi and has given tickets to at least seven such candidates.
Badri Narayan, an Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst, said the BSP’s diminished prospects in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh would likely help the Congress.
“However, if it gets stronger in Delhi, it will hurt both the Congress and the BJP because here the urban Dalit votes, like those from the Valmiki community, go both to the BJP and the Congress party," he said. “Also, Mayawati has almost made Delhi her base ever since she lost in Uttar Pradesh. Her fight is for the Centre and so it makes sense that she focuses her party’s energies in Delhi."