Three seats – that’s what some opinion polls by news channels are giving Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh election. The party, founded by Manyavar Kanshiram, is at a crucial stage of its history. Its performance in the 2022 assembly election is going to decide whether the BSP will come back to the centre of politics or get further marginalised.
Most media surveys and assessments predict BSP’s worst performance yet in this election. Some have given it 13 per cent vote share and most hovered around 7 to 15 seats. The vote share of BSP has not come down below 20 per cent in the last three decades, even during its worst electoral performance – in the 2017 election. Can the party, which has always claimed the Dalit vote – Dalits comprise 21 per cent of UP’s population – shrink to this level? The BSP has been in power four times in the state and formed the government in 2007 with full majority.
With its strong vote base, the BSP had created a broad rainbow alliance with various castes and communities in UP. But now it is on the verge of fragmentation and decline. This weakening is reflected in the results of the last few assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
This time, Mayawati’s inability to do aggressive campaigning through big rallies and media appearances has given a perceptional loss to the BSP. Due to this absence, media and political analysts started projecting the 2022 election as a bi-polar one between the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). I am not saying that the BSP led by Mayawati is going to be a main contender for power against the ruling BJP, but the image created of the party’s marginalisation may be difficult to find on ground.
BSP cadres at work
We have seen BSP workers silently working on the ground in UP for many months now. The political culture of BSP has never been ‘big rally’ centered. From the very beginning, workers and leaders have carried out door-to-door campaigns and organised small meetings in the bastis of Dalits and Bahujans. So, the current perception of BSP being in non-action mode due to the absence of massive rallies addressed by Mayawati may not be true. But the relevance of rallies during an election can’t be denied. It is needed to create enthusiasm among supporters and mobilise other voters and get stepney votes. The BSP may lose some votes due to its failure to hold rallies before the Election Commission put in Covid restrictions this year, but we have observed Mayawati’s cadres working among communities other than her vote base through ‘bhaichara committees’. Bhaichara committees included OBC representatives from Kurmi, Maurya, Rajbbar castes along with Brahmins and Dalits.
Second, Mayawati does not need to talk a lot to send messages to her supporters, a few lines are enough to mobilise them. Mayawati recently made public appearances on the birthday of Kanshiram and her own birthday. She told party workers to fulfil Kanshiram’s dreams and work for the victory of the BSP.
The media has earlier shown how Mayawati would collect feedback for all the activities her cadres carried out by organising meetings of its mandal coordinators. The BSP is clearly not competing well when it comes to perception politics, and is still contesting elections at the grassroots level. But their small meetings’ culture and door to door campaign capacity may be helpful during Covid time, making the UP election triangular in various constituencies. In fact, when it comes to door-to-door campaigning capacity, the BSP is perhaps only second to the BJP.
Don’t write BSP off
The most glaring absence of the BSP is in the digital domain. But in the last five years, the party has tried to evolve its digital campaign power. In this election, the BSP has established well-equipped digital war rooms at the district level, attached to its state digital war room in Lucknow.
The success of BSP politics was always based on the stepney votes in addition to its base vote, so a candidate’s social base and winnability matter a lot. The party tries to place candidates who will aid its social alliance.
I am not saying that the BSP will replace the Samajwadi Party and enter a bi-polar contest with the BJP. But it can make many seats in UP a triangular contest. Don’t write Mayawati’s party off just yet.
The author is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)