Decoding Mayawati’s decision to fight polls alone

The BSP has been out of power since 2012, and it fears that forging alliances with other parties may dilute the commitment of its cadre to the party's identity-based politics.
Last Updated : 08 September 2023, 06:45 IST
Last Updated : 08 September 2023, 06:45 IST

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Days before the I.N.D.I.A alliance was scheduled to hold its third meeting in Mumbai, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati announced that her party would go solo in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The decision was seen as a move to help the Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which seeks a third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Often, the Opposition has labelled the BSP as the B team’ of the BJP, and this perception has grown, especially after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

In the past decade, Mayawati's detachment from ground-level politics, her infrequent public appearances in political rallies and party functions, has surprised many, including her party workers and supporters. This period also witnessed a sharp decline in the BSP's performance in electoral politics.

The Modi wave swept Uttar Pradesh in 2014, and the BSP couldn't secure a single seat in the Lok Sabha. The downward slide continued, and the BSP, which had dominated Uttar Pradesh politics for over two decades, suffered unprecedented setbacks. In the 2017 assembly elections, the BSP won just 19 of the 403 seats, down from 80 it had won in 2012. This was the party's all-time low tally since 1991 when it won just 12 seats. In the 2022 assembly elections, Mayawati's party managed to secure one seat. The BSP's formerly fixed vote bank in the assembly elections, which had once been around a formidable 22 per cent, has now dwindled to 12.88 per cent.

By announcing her decision to go solo in the 2024 battle for New Delhi's crown, Mayawati appears to have a well-thought-out strategy to test her hold on the crucial Dalit vote bank in Uttar Pradesh.

Since its inception, the BSP struck a poll alliance just once — in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the Samajwadi Party (SP). On its own, the BSP has managed to rule Uttar Pradesh four times.

But the Dalit leader has come under constant attack from the Opposition for allegedly aligning with the BJP due to the intense pressure of alleged corruption cases. What adds weight to the allegations of the BSP being the BJP's B team’ is Mayawati selectively being inactive, refraining from engaging in grassroots politics, and limiting herself to occasional social media posts. Additionally, the way she fielded 100 Muslim candidates in the 2017 state polls raised eyebrows. Many interpreted the move as to counter polarise votes to help BJP. 

This narrative, of BSP’s actions favouring BJP, has driven many non-Jatav Dalits, like Dhobi, Pasi, Khatik, Dusadh, Paswan, and Noniya, to explore their political future in other parties. Mayawati's waning grip over Dalits and her influence primarily limited to Jatavs is a cause for concern for the Dalit outfit. The BJP with Asim Arun, and the SP with Ambedkar Vahini are making efforts to appeal to these Dalits.

The BSP's ‘ekla chalo’ plan seems to be based on Mayawati's political calculations to remain a significant force in Uttar Pradesh. The party has been out of power since 2012, and it fears that forging alliances with other parties may dilute the commitment of its cadre to the party's identity-based politics. Every five years the number of enthusiastic first-time voters entering electoral politics is increasing, and by not being in power, the BSP is losing mind-space among young Dalits.

Mayawati’s move is aimed at staying relevant by reclaiming space in the collective ‘Bahujan’ electorate's memory. Cadre-based political parties, such as the Left parties, can afford to forge alliances while retaining their distinct identity among their cadre.

The BSP was born out of a caste-based ideology aimed at the upliftment of the Bahujan community. The party, under Kanshi Ram, embarked on identity politics by asserting the identity of Bahujan. The BSP cannot afford to lose its core vote bank of Bahujan, which serves as the foundation to build a broad social alliance of Sarvjan (everyone).

The BSP has a 4-8 per cent core voter base in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, and aims to retain the status of a national party — and this is unlike other caste-based parties such as the Apana Dal (Sonelal) of Anupriya Patel, the Nishad Party of Sanjay Nishad, and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of OP Rajbhar, whose influence is limited to a particular caste and a few districts of Uttar Pradesh.

From 'Tilak taraju aur talwar inko maro jutee char' to 'Sarv Jan Hitay, Sarv Jan Sukhay’ — this narrates BSP's political journey in the Hindi heartland. The shift from Bahujan to Sarvjan in the BSP's political strategy led to the emergence of Mayawati in 2007 as a champion of social justice and social engineering politics.

Can she repeat this, or fade from people's memory?

(Mahendra Singh is a political commentator and teaches Political Science at DDU Gorakhpur University, Uttar Pradesh.)

The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH

Published 08 September 2023, 06:45 IST

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