It was an outpouring of bad news for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), once the elephantine force in Uttar Pradesh and Dalit politics, as results of the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections came through on Thursday.
The party that broke the pattern of a decade and more to form a full majority government in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, was reduced to a single seat (at the time of writing), and its voteshare had diminished from 22% in 2017 to 12.8% in 2022.
In Punjab, the party fought in alliance with the Akali Dal and registered one win and 1.7% of the vote in a State where the Dalit vote is possibly the largest in any State in India.
BSP chief Mayawati and her party had been largely absent in the campaign space, and though alibis that this was the usual ‘silent’ style of campaign that was usually followed by the BJP were trotted out, the results showed that the party remained absent from the fray.
"The BSP and even Dalit politics is in crisis. There is a Dalit janmat [popular support base] for sure but whether the BSP is now the natural leader for it is an open question," says Dr. Badri Narayan, author of a well–regarded biography of BSP founder Kanshi Ram — Kanshiram : Leader of the Dalits.
The party had also been accused of being in cahoots with the BJP in terms of an electoral adjustment and candidate selection to help that party win a tough bipolar battle. The BJP leaders, including Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, emphasised that that was not the case, that the BSP was on its own, but the results have shown that in many seats, the BSP candidates have aided the BJP victories. The rise in the BJP's vote share (with fewer seats) from 39.7% in 2017 to nearly 42% in 2022 also reflects that some of this Dalit vote may have shifted to the BJP.
The decline in the BSP's fortunes from 207 seats in 2007 to one seat is important in the context of not just Uttar Pradesh but also the larger question of politics of Dalit identity.