BSP's overtures to Muslims, a tricky tactic

BSP's overtures to Muslims, a tricky tactic

An attempt to demystify the BSP is always fraught with risk. This party has defied logic of political pundits ever since it came into existence. The rise of the BSP as a significant political force is based on a huge social movement that created a strong base. This kind of support of a social restructuring is not available to any major political party in India, a reason why the BSP will remain a political force even when it loses all the seats – something that happened in the 2014 Lok Sabha (LS) elections. Within UP, the BSP secured got nearly 20% votes – third largest after BJP (42.3%) and Samajwadi Party (22.2%) – though it has failed to win a single seat, in 2014.

Coming to the 2012 Assembly elections, the BSP got 80 seats with around 25.91% of the votes polled, next only to the SP with 29.31%. However, the more important fact is that the BSP came second in around 100 seats. The margin of defeat in around 50 seats was less than 5,000 votes. The 2014 LS elections cannot be the platform for Assembly elections for two reasons: one, assembly elections are different in nature and tenor than parliamentary elections; two, the BJP’s rise was around three years ago.

However, there is another twist to the BSP theory. The party has created a rock-solid vote bank which can fetch them 80 to 90 seats safely. But in order to pass that bar of 200 seats, the BSP needs alliances of a different nature. It had the initial philosophical base of going it alone without compromising with the so called forward castes of the society. It was a pure Dalit-based party which hated all others. Political compulsions, however, made them change this stance, as without successfully adding another 5% votes, they would have remained a party without power.

Course correction began in the late 1990s. From Bahujan Samaj to Sarv Samaj, the transition started. From ‘Tilak, Taraju aur Talwar’ to ‘Hathi Nahin Ganesh hai; Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai’, the slogans changed. This new political scenario changed with the BSP holding hands with the  Brahmins. In the 2007 elections, with Brahmins adding around 5% votes, the BSP easily crossed the bar and formed its first full majority government.

For the 2017 elections, the BSP has worked on Muslim votes. They have given tickets to 90-odd Muslim candidates – highest for any political party. Muslims constitute 19.3% of the population of the state. In 73 constituencies, they form over 30% of the electorate. In the 2012 elections, out of those 73 seats, the SP won 35, BJP 17, BSP 13, Congress+RLD 6 and small Muslim parties won 2 seats.

Fluctuating loyalty

A senior cleric of Darul Uloom Deoband explained, “Muslim votes get divided. See, defeating the BJP is a big factor but not all Muslims are able to judge that accurately. Other factors also matter: the candidate, the party, the village level dynamics, the rivalries etc.” He argues that if all Muslims voted together, the BJP would not have won 71 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, nor formed governments in the state in the past. The BSP is also trying to hypothesize that Muslims vote in herds and with the sole objective of defeating the BJP.

By giving so much weightage to the Muslim factor, the BSP has communalised politics. At the grassroots, issues are more communal than political. Muslim and Dalits are not a natural combination at the lowest level. This will help the BJP more than it will hurt them. With the end of the SP family feud, the Akhilesh Yadav-led outfit will attract more literate Muslim voters. It must be remembered that the SP has given much more share to Muslims in both politics and the government than the BSP. If there is any party which is a natural ally of the Muslims it is the SP. The BSP with its huge leaning towards Muslims has alienated other higher caste groups that supported them in the past elections – something that will cost them dearly.

To conclude, past election results show that the BSP has generally not been able to score in Dalit-dominated constituencies. Statistics also show that the BSP was runner-up in most reserved constituencies won by its rivals. Political analysts say the reason for the BSP’s not-so-good performance in reserved seats is that in these, all parties have to field Dalit candidates, leading to a split of Dalit votes. Hence, those capable of attracting votes from other castes and communities win.

With 66 Scheduled Castes, the Dalits constitute around 21% of the population. The Jatavs comprise 56.3% of the Dalit population followed by Pasis at 15.9%, while the Dhobi, Kori and Balmiki together form 15.3%. Analysts say that though the BSP is a Dalit-based party, only Jatav sub-caste is a staunch BSP supporter since Mayawati is also a Jatav. The other sub-castes also support the BSP, but change their stand depending on candidates fielded by other parties in reserved seats.

(The writer is head, Department of Public Administration, Lucknow University)

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