The absence of the Bahujan Samaj Party in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh byelections has made poll pundits curious about where the party’s trusted vote bank will shift on December 5. Though the BSP traditionally keeps off byelections, it bucked the practice after the debacle in the Assembly election when its vote percentage plummeted to a historic low of 12.88%, by contesting the Azamgarh Lok Sabha election earlier this year. It returned with around 29% votes and ensured the victory of the ruling party in the Samajwadi Party (SP) bastion.
Experts expected the BSP supremo Mayawati to continue cornering the SP. The idea was bolstered by the BSP’s renewed Muslim outreach when it put firebrand leader Imran Masood in charge of western Uttar Pradesh. Simultaneously, the party started sidelining its Brahmin faces, suggesting a change in the formula of social engineering from Brahmin-Dalit to a Muslim-Dalit alliance. With AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi praising the BSP supremo in Gujarat, it seemed likely that a section of Muslims wanted to give Mayawati another chance.
However, sources in the party said participation in the Azamgarh bypoll was to showcase that the BSP was still a force to reckon with. “This time the strategy is to wait and watch and let the SP prove its credentials as the primary contender to defeat the BJP. Whoever loses will look towards us,” said a senior BSP leader.
Political observers and sources on the ground suggested that in the absence of the BSP, the BJP would become the “swabhavik” (natural) choice of Dalits, particularly in the constituencies where the elections are being held.
In Mainpuri, where Mulayam Singh Yadav was the joint candidate of the SP and the BSP in 2019, the Dalits have traditionally complained about the aggression of Yadavs. In Khatauli, where the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has fielded a Gurjar strongman, the Jats and Gurjars are known to dominate and in Rampur, it is the Muslims.
The way the BJP has mobilised its Dalit leadership in these constituencies in the last few days indicates the party is seriously pursuing the vote bank of the BSP. On the other hand, SP president Akhilesh Yadav is talking of an alliance between the Ambedkarites and the Lohiaites and the RLD is busy raising the slogan: “Bachcha bachcha Bhim ka, RLD ki team ka” (All the followers of Ambedkar are part of the RLD team).
Seema Kushwaha, national spokesperson of the BSP, said there was no direction from the high command on whom to vote for. “The cadre knows what is best for them,” she said. Ms. Mayawati’s statements made in the last couple of months indicated that the BSP chief was maintaining an equal distance from all political parties, Ms. Kushwaha said. “We are preparing to go solo in the Lok Sabha polls and will contest the urban local bodies poll with all our might,” she asserted.
Ms. Mayawati’s recent tweets target the BJP on lack of security and protection for Dalits and women in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. She also didn’t spare the Congress on crime against Dalits in Rajasthan. On the one hand, she questioned the failure of the Congress governments in raising the educational standard of Muslims and, on the other, she targeted the BJP government for interfering in the functioning of unrecognised madrasas that had not sought government funds.
On the impact of the Azad Samaj Party (ASP) joining the SP-RLD alliance in the bypolls, Ms. Kushwaha said there was some upheaval in the Bhim Army (the non-political arm of the ASP) and it would support the BSP in the Municipal Corporation polls in Delhi. The arrangement could be extended to U.P., Ms. Kushwaha said. Sources in Bhim Army said they were “flexible” and it was the BSP that had kept them out in the past.
Suraj Singh, a senior party leader from western U.P., said it was a perception spread by “BJP-fed media” that the core vote of the BSP had shifted to the BJP. “This is the same media that reduced the Assembly poll to a contest between the BJP and the SP. Our core vote is around 18% of the total electorate and we got around 13%. Going by the voting percentage, this doesn’t indicate any significant shift,” he said.
He said Muslims had realised that despite their full support, the SP could not cross the halfway mark. “The alternative is clear. Only BSP, with its cadre, can help Muslims dislodge the BJP,” Mr. Singh stressed.
Malook Nagar, BSP MP from Bijnor, said that even in the Assembly polls, the BSP had fielded 88 candidates but the community chose to back the SP. He said a section of Muslims was annoyed with the BSP for supporting the BJP government on the dilution of provisions under Article 370. “We have explained to them that it was in the interest of the SC/ST community and the Gurjars of Kashmir and was something that was advocated by Baba Sahib. There is no bitterness now,” Mr. Nagar said.