As BSP MPs desert the party, Lok Sabha election to be a reckoning for Mayawati

BSP MP Ritesh Pandey’s defection to the BJP on Sunday is part of a continuum of BSP MPs looking elsewhere for political refuge

February 26, 2024 05:25 pm | Updated 05:58 pm IST - NEW DELHI

BSP chief Mayawati. File

BSP chief Mayawati. File | Photo Credit: ANI

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) saw 10 MPs get elected on its tickets. The run-up to the 2024 General Election, however, appears to be more like a countdown of their diminishing numbers as many of these MPs are looking for and securing different political options.

BSP MP Ritesh Pandey’s defection to the BJP on February 25 afternoon is actually part of a continuum of BSP MPs looking elsewhere for political refuge, with Ghazipur MP Afzal Ansari already securing the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) ticket for the seat.

On Sunday itself, Shyam Singh Yadav, BSP MP from Jaunpur participated in the Congress-led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, where SP chief Akhilesh Yadav was also present. While Mr. Shyam Singh Yadav said on record that he considered the yatra an apolitical venture, there is talk that he met with Mr. Akhilesh Yadav before the yatra, and that he may secure a ticket for himself from the SP.

The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra also made an interesting detour in its Uttar Pradesh leg — while originally expected to go straight from Moradabad to Sambhal, at the request of BSP MP Danish Ali, the yatra took a route via the latter’s Lok Sabha constituency of Amroha, a signal that Mr. Ali too might be on his way to the Congress. Several other MPs are also looking at options, while some more are looking at the BJP and are waiting for political equations to settle.

When he quit, Mr. Pandey said that he had tired of waiting to be engaged with the BSP leadership, and of not being involved in the party’s activities. Ms. Mayawati, in a series of tweets, asked the MPs to introspect on whether they are serving the larger “Bahujan movement” or just going “hither and tither spreading the word that party is weak”.

Ever since the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the pole position in the BJP and the government, his party has been successful in weaning away non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC) and non-Jatav Schedule Castes (SC) from the two big parties in Uttar Pradesh — the SP and the BSP. While the SP is aided by the fact that it has the additional support of minorities, and Yadav-dominated seats where both these communities can be dominant, the BSP has been left out in the cold.

“The BSP’s 12-13% Jatav and Dalit vote bank is still with the party, but its winnability was always secured when it reached out across caste lines to other castes. The only two ways for Mayawati to do is either through alliances with other parties, like she did with the SP in 2019, or by putting up strong candidates from various communities,” political scientist Badri Narayan, author of the well-regarded biography, Kanshi Ram: Leader of the Dalits, on the BSP’s founder, said. 

“Mayawati has the potential to reach out across caste lines, as she demonstrated in 2007, but somehow, she is not acting on it currently,” he added. “She has maintained equidistance from the BJP and the Opposition, but that has left her in the cold, unlike Naveen Patnaik, who also follows the same strategy, but with greater effect.”

BSP MPs have conveyed that the fire and brimstone of Ms. Mayawati’s leadership has dimmed somewhat, with one MP telling The Hindu that on issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the abrogation of Article 370, he received calls from Ms. Mayawati, questioning him on why he was “so attacking” on the government in Parliament. For the erstwhile big third force in U.P., with only on MLA in the Assembly and a deserting flock, the 2024 Lok Sabha election will be a reckoning for sure.

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