In Punjab, BSP’s ‘chronic spoilsport’ role continues to shrink, yet it may be spoilsport on handful seats

Political observers feel that while the BSP’s vote share is relatively small, the party may dent the electoral prospects of mainstream parties in the ‘Dalit’ dominated parliamentary constituencies

Updated - May 17, 2024 01:23 pm IST

Published - May 17, 2024 01:02 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

Representational file image.

Representational file image. | Photo Credit: PTI

With the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) witnessing a gradual decrease in its vote share over the years in Punjab’s political space, the party ‘chronic spoilsport’ role continues to shrink in electoral politics of the State, even as it could still play a spoilsport in a handful of parliamentary constituencies in the 2024 General Election.

Political observers feel that while the BSP’s vote share is relatively small, the party may dent the electoral prospects of mainstream parties in the ‘Dalit’ dominated parliamentary constituencies including Hoshiarpur, Anandpur Sahib, Jalandhar, and Faridkot as Punjab is all set for a multi-corner contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha election against the triangular battles, which were seen since 2014, after the entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab’s electoral politics.

Also read | The limitations of Ambedkarite Dalit politics today

In 2019, the parliamentary election was largely a triangular fight between the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharayita Janta Party (as alliance partners), and the Aam Aadmi Party. Notably, the BJP and SAD are contesting the 2024 elections separately, after SAD broke away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition in 2020.

The BSP for the first time is contesting alone on all 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, which goes to poll on June 1 during the last phase of the general election. 

“With an increased number of parties contesting this election, the divide among votes is bound to happen. The BSP’s vote share has decreased over the years yet when more parties are in the fray, there is a good chance that the margin of win and loss gets narrower. In such a situation even a few thousand votes could be crucial. The BSP has a specific ‘Dalit’ vote bank, which could dent other political parties, especially the Congress, which traditionally is considered to have a grip over Dalit voters. The parliamentary constituencies including Hoshiarpur, Anandpur Sahib, Jalandha, and Faridkot are seats where the BSP could play a spoilsport,” said Kehar Singh, former head of the Department of Political Science, at Punjabi University.

In Punjab, Scheduled Caste (Dalits) account for around 32% of the population, the highest percentage among States in the country. The BSP used Dalit as a political plank for the first time in the year 1992, but the party has received a declining response in Punjab since then. In 1992 it secured 16% votes in Punjab but it dropped to 4% in the 2012 Assembly polls, and in the 2022 Assembly it further dipped to reach 1.77%.

“The SCs constitute more than 32% of the state’s population, and they are segmented further into Valmikis, Mazhabis, etc, and are not represented in politics by any particular caste-based party. The long-term implications of SCs finding representation in mainstream political parties in Punjab have been that the BSP vote share is continuously declining, which came down from 8% in 2004 to 3.5% in 2012 and 2% in 2019 parliamentary elections,” Pramod Kumar, director of the Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh, told The Hindu.

According to the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) in Chandigarh, data surrounding caste-based representation (as candidature) given by mainstream political parties in the last 13 assembly elections (1967-2022) in Punjab, reveals that of the 387 Scheduled Caste MLAs elected, 23% elected representatives were from the Congress party, 28.3% from Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and 16.1% from the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). The other parties’ figure for SCs stood at 33.5%.

“The data shows that the majority of scheduled caste legislators got elected from political parties other than the BSP, and Communist parties.. The Dalit vote bank is not for an exclusive political party in Punjab. They are spread into different parties. The BSP is a chronic spoiler, but that role is shrinking,” he said.

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