Vidya subrahmaniam

NEW DELHI: With the 2008 Assembly polls billed as the semi-finals before next year’s Lok Sabha election, there has been much speculation over the role and prospects of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Will it play spoiler in 2008? Will it be the party to watch out for in 2009?

The elephant (party symbol) march in Delhi was particularly impressive. Figures released by CNN-IBN and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies show that though the party won only two seats in the State, it increased its vote share by 8.5 percentage points to nearly 14 per cent. Not just this. It came second in another five constituencies, losing one, Narela, by less than 1000 votes. The party had zero presence in the previous Assembly.

The BSP had two seats each in the State Assemblies of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In the former, it won five additional seats and doubled its vote share from 3.9 per cent to over eight per cent. In Madhya Pradesh, the party had won six seats and was leading in one other at the time of writing. It increased its vote share by two percentage points to about 8.35 per cent.

The only State to disappoint the BSP was Chhatisgarh: The party made no addition to its 2003 tally of two eats. Yet even here its vote share registered an upswing – increasing by 2.5 percentage points to over six per cent.

Did the BSP adversely affect the Congress or the BJP? Take Delhi, where the party had its best showing. The BSP made no difference to the Congress, which pulled off a third spectacular victory. Early pointers here suggest that the Congress did very well among the rich and the upper middle classes, pulling ahead of the BJP in these sections. This might explain why the BSP, seen as the party of the poor, did not damage the Congress as much as it could have. As against this, the BSP appears to have affected the Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Impressive as they are, the increases in the BSP’s vote shares must be seen also in the context of the party contesting far more seats compared to 2003 in three of four States – Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In Delhi, it contested all 69 seats compared to only 40 in 2003. In the 20-seat Assembly of Rajasthan, it contested 199 seats against 124 in 2004. In the 230-seat House of Madhya Pradesh, it contested 173 seats against 157 in 2003.