The fall of BSP after 2007 win

The party failed to rework its ideology to hold together the support base it had built ahead of polls.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) failed to win a single seat in the last parliamentary election despite being the country’s third largest party by vote share. The party had, in fact, begun to wobble after its historic win in the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election.

It failed to rework its ideology to hold together the support base it had built ahead of that election. This was reflected in the inability to coin new slogans that would appeal to increasingly diverse supporters. The party’s vote share and geographical footprint shrunk in the following decade.

The BSP was launched in 1984 and recognised as a national party in 1997. As its support base grew over the years, the party shifted from narrow to more inclusive slogans. While older slogans did not disappear, their use in propaganda decreased. The changes in slogans can help identify four stages in the BSP history.

Initially, when the Dalits were struggling to secure minimal rights, the party’s slogans focused on access to public offices and resources: Vote hamara, raj tumhara, nahin chalega, nahin chalega (our vote, your rule, this won’t do), and Vote se laenge PM/CM, aarakshan se laenge SP/DM (we will capture politics through vote, bureaucracy through reservation).

These were complemented by slogans that shamed the upper castes and extended the party’s appeal to kindred communities: Tilak, taraju aur talwar, inko maaro joote char (Thrash brahmins, baniyas and thakurs with shoes), and Thakur, brahmin, bania chhod, baki sab hain DS4 (except the three upper castes, the rest are oppressed and exploited).

After establishing itself as an audacious champion of the Dalit cause, the party engaged upper castes from a position of streng­th in two steps. It first came up with a slogan welcoming sections of the upper castes: Baniya maaf, thakur half, aur brahmin saaf (baniyas are pardoned, kshatriyas could be forgiven, brahmins will be finished-off).

Then around 2007, bahujan (majority) gave way to sarvajan (everyone) and the party opened its gates for all including brahmins. Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh hai (BSP’s symbol is not a mere elephant, it is Ganesh, it is the trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh) replaced older slogans such as Jab mile Mulayam-Kanshiram, hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shri Ram (When Mulayam-Kanshiram came together, the BJP/Jai Shri Ram was blown away).

The BSP called for reservation for the poor among the upper castes, while the latter began touching Mayawati’s feet. The party’s brahmin supporters greeted Mayawati with the slogan, Brahmano ki yahi pukar, Mayawati chauthi baar (Brahmins hope Mayawati will beco-me the CM for the fourth time).

Another slogan of this period, Chad gundon ki chhati par, mohar lagegi haathi par (do not fear goons, vote for the elephant), appealed to voters on the basis of Mayawati’s record as an able administrator, who alone could curb the SP’s goondaraj.

In 2007, the BSP became the first party in 16 years to secure an outright majority in UP. The party’s traditional Dalit voters responded in two different ways to the growing bonhomie with the upper castes, especially, bra­hmins. A section welcomed the BSP’s ascendance with slogans such as Brahman shankh baja­yega, haathi dilli jayega (conch-blowing brahmins will herald the elephant’s march to Delhi).

However, another section viewed the party’s reorientation as a means of selling Dalit votes to upper caste bidders. This was echoed in slogans such as Sau-sau joote khayeingein, lekin Behenji ko pradhanmantri banayegein (we are ready to bear oppression to fulfil Mayawati’s prime ministerial ambitions).

Reverse social engineering

By 2012, the sceptics had reined in the reverse social engineering of the BSP, which now feared losing its core supporters. Moreover, the upper castes didn’t appreciate the BSP government’s attempts to empower Dalits. The sarvajan alliance fell apart and the party lost the 2012 election. Since then the party has been groping for new slogans.

Sarva samaj ke samman mein, Behenji maidan mein (Behenji is here to protect the interests of all sections), was one of the slogans tried during this period. In 2014, the BSP tried to reinvigorate the sarvajan alliance. However, in the middle of the election, Mayawati had to go out of her way to claim that Dalit’s were not Hindus.

In the ongoing UP election, the BSP is using a variety of slogans. Slogans such as Gaon-gaon ko shaher banane do, Behenji ko aane do (Let Behenji come, transform villages into cities) proclaim the party’s developmental commitments. Another slogan, Betiyon ko muskurane do, Behenji ko aane do (let Behenji come, allow daughters to smile), targets UP’s poor law and order condition.

Sabhi dharmon ka hath, Behenji ke saath (all religious communities are behind Mayawati), positions the BSP as a secular party. While the party is signalling its tilt toward the Dalit-Muslim-Bahujan with the slogan, Dalit-Muslim bhai-bhai, dono bole Baspa aai-aai (Dalit-Muslim brothers say BSP is coming). Brahmins are highly overrepresented among the party’s candidates.

Will the new slogans, which lack the edge of earlier slogans, convey a clear message to voters in multi-cornered elections? Will the ‘elephant’ succeed in reinventing itself for the fifth time? We will have to wait until March 11 for answers.

(The writer teaches at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru)

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