Bahujan Samaj Party, the only national party led by a Dalit, has never been a media favourite. But considering the recent commentary, one wonders whether a section of the press is conspiring to eliminate the party from the national scene.
Turn on the TV channels and you won’t stop hearing: ‘BSP is a B-team of the Bharatiya Janata Party’ or that ‘Mayawati is not giving her 100 per cent’ ahead of the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election. For some, the BSP has already deserted the battleground. For others, its leader doesn’t even exist in the scheme of things — detractors maintain that the fight is between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) alone.
These opinions are so alike that sometimes you wonder if they are all being read from the same script.
Amid all this, Mayawati’s massive 9 October rally, on the death anniversary of BSP founder Kanshiram, seems to have proved everyone wrong. Speaking to an estimated two lakh-strong crowd, Mayawati herself responded to the critics, asking them to see the strength at the gathering and the party’s preparation for the upcoming polls.
Busting the CBI myth
Let us assess the most common claims being made vis-a-vis BSP’s political strategy in Uttar Pradesh as well as the party’s preparations.
That the BSP ‘weakens secular forces’ in every state deliberately because Mayawati is scared of CBI/Income Tax Department is the first charge against the party.
Barring UP and Bihar, most northern states have two-way fight — BJP vs Congress. For a registered national party, BSP has decent presence in Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab. This is perceived as indirectly helping the BJP, raising questions on its survival itself. Contrary to the claim, on many occasions, the BSP has bailed out its rival Congress in many of these states during deadlocks. Following are some instances:
- In May 2016, then Uttarakhand CMHarish Rawat thanked Mayawati and her partyMLAs for supporting the Congress during a floor test. He had said: “I have no words to thank Ms Mayawati, BSP’s help was such a relief.”
- During the Karnataka deadlock after the2018 assembly election, it was Mayawati whoorchestrated an alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), keeping the BJP out of power. She telephoned Sonia Gandhi and D. Deve Gowda, pursuing them to come together and form a government. The iconic Sonia Gandhi-Mayawati hug is a testament to that.
- In 2018 again, the BSP extended support to the Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to keep the BJP out of power.
- The party had supported Manmohan Singh’s UPA government for 10 years without any ministerial position.
Yet, the BSP gets no credit for extending such help to its allies. It was the Congress’ utter failure of not being able to retain MP and Karnataka after the BJP engineered defections to win back the states. If Mayawati was scared of CBI or IT officials, a tool Narendra Modi government has used against its opposition, as it is alleged, what explains the party’s recent support to Congress?
BSP’s Lok Sabha voting pattern
That the BSP bails out BJP on controversial bills in Parliament is the second allegation.
Let us see if there is any merit in this argument or is the benchmark for the BSP, compared with other parties, too high in the eyes of the media as far as voting in the House is concerned?
- BSP has vehemently opposed and voted against BJP’s CAA-NRC bill in both Houses of Parliament.
- It opposed the controversial farm laws that India’s farmers have been protesting against for months.
- BSP voted against the triple talaq bill in Lok Sabha, though its four MPs remained absent in Rajya Sabha — this has been perceived as the party’s tacit understanding with the BJP.
- BSP openly supported the removal of Article 370.
How did other parties like the SP and NCP fare in the House compared to the BSP?
It’s noteworthy that Rajya Sabha absenteeism during the passage of the triple talaq bill had rocked all parties, including Congress, SP, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Communist Party of India (CPI), among others, thereby reducing the Opposition’s strength in the House.
During the vote on abrogation of Article 370, the response of other parties wasn’t very different from that of the BSP. While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supported the legislation, the TMC MPs walked out. And NCP MPs abstained, reducing the support against the bill. SP’s Akhilesh Yadav was guarded but he too supported the bill, half-heartedly. Also, two of his MPs remained absent and resigned. Congress Chief whip in Rajya Sabha Bhubaneshwar Kalita resigned in protest against the party’s stand on 370. NCP’s Ajit Pawar, too, publicly supported the legislation.
So if the commentators see the BSP going “soft” on the BJP on the basis of the party’s voting pattern, then SP, NCP, TMC, and AAP are equally soft.
Third charge against the BSP is that it is not preparing well for the 2022 elections.
“Basapa picture me nahi hai (BSP is not in the picture)” is a common refrain on news channels. What’s the situation on the ground?
The BSP is the first party to declare candidates for most of the 403 assembly constituencies in the state and had started the Brahmin Sammelan months ago — setting an agenda that many parties followed later.
In the list of 400 candidates for the upcoming assembly election, the party has given 25 per cent representation each to Dalits, OBCs, Muslims and upper castes.
Mayawati is no Priyanka
Gandhi Vadra or Arvind Kejriwal—politicians who often resort to dharnas—and the BSP has never practised a confrontational style of politics, even during its meteoric rise in the late ’80s. It banks heavily on building cadre base and garnering power, which it believes is key to solving the social problems. One would hardly see the BSP doing reactionary and symbolic dharna pradarshan against atrocities on Dalits.
The BSP’s social media presence and media engagement have also grown since 2017, with the party spokespersons actively interacting on all platforms and informing the public about the achievements of Mayawati’s previous governments.
The alliance theory
The fourth assumption is that since the BSP had allied with the BJP in the past, it will do so again.
In 1995, 1996 and 2003, the BSP did side with the BJP — mostly to solve the three-way deadlock of the UP assembly election — albeit on its own terms and only to ensure that the CM’s post remained with Mayawati and did not go to BJP. The BSP never supported a BJP CM in the assembly. Her tenure was known for maintaining strict law and order — a boon for the riot-prone state.
For the past 18 years, the BSP has had no pre-poll or post-poll association with the BJP. If this still makes it a B-team, then the Trinamool Congress (Mamata Banerjee was railways minister in BJP-led NDA government in 1999), NCP (supported BJP from outside in Maharashtra), TDP, and Shiv Sena are equally guilty.
Mayawati’s statement during 2020 MLC Polls “to ensure defeat of SP candidates, even if it means BJP or other party candidate wins” is cited as evidence of a BSP-BJP understanding.
Note that this statement was issued as an angry reaction to SP engineering defections in the BSP. The BSP chief had later clarified that her statement was aimed at MLC elections only and that she will prefer political sanyas to an electoral alliance with the BJP.
Cross-voting in MLC elections is normal. During 2016, for instance, half a dozen SP MLAs voted for the BJP and the SP leadership was “aware” of the cross-voting to ensure a BJP victory.
BSP is a very potent force with its rock-solid base. Even in its ‘abysmal’ performance in 2017, it was the second-largest party with 22.2 per cent vote share, followed by SP’s 21.8 per cent.
Recent changes in the organisation make the BSP stronger than before. According to Vivek Kumar, Professor of sociology at JNU, “Neither Akhilesh Yadav nor CM Yogi has experience of running a campaign for 403 constituencies. SP is without Azam Khan, Shivpal Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh this time. Yogi was airdropped as CM after elections. And it is here that Mayawati has an upper hand, especially in a big state like UP.”
Mulayam Singh openly wishes to see Modi as PM again; Gulam Nabi Azad and Shashi Tharoor too have praised the PM. Even Digvijaya Singh has praised Amit Shah. But the shadow of doubt is always cast on Mayawati.
BSP critics finding fault with Mayawati’s policies and strategies is one thing but calling her B-team, or puppet and completely ignoring her, reeks of nothing else but caste bias against the leader of the third-largest national party in India, which may be down but not out.
Ravikiran Shinde is an independent writer and columnist. He writes on socio-political issues and is proponent of diversity. He tweets (@scribe_it). Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)