New Delhi: The Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP’s) decision to ally with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab has upset party leaders in the state, who say the seat-sharing arrangement will hurt their poll prospects in the state.
The BSP had in the last week of June expelled its former state president Rachpal Raju for speaking out against the move, while the party’s OBC wing president Sukhbir Singh Shalimar has tendered his resignation over the decision.
Both leaders spoke to ThePrint and warned that more leaders are set to quit the BSP in the coming days.
According to them, the chief reason for the discontent is the BSP’s decision to forego a large number of seats in Doaba, which is Punjab’s Dalit majority region and one that the party has better poll prospects.
They also claimed that the alliance will only hurt the BSP’s chances as, according to them, the Akalis will bear the poll consequences of the farmers’ protests over the three farm laws.
ThePrint contacted the BSP’s Punjab unit president Jasvir Singh Garhi through text message and a phone call but he did not respond.
An ‘unhappy’ alliance
According to the seat-sharing formula, of the 117 seats in Punjab, the BSP will contest in 20 while SAD will field candidates in 97 seats.
In Doaba, the region from where BSP founder Kanshi Ram hails, the party has been handed just eight of the 23 assembly seats.
Raju told ThePrint that this will severely hurt the party’s prospects, in an election, he added that it could have made headway due to the state of the opposition in the state.
“We have 15,000 to 25,000 votes per constituency in 12 assembly seats in Doaba. But our home turf has been given as a freebie to SAD,” he said. “Our votes will be transferred to them. But what have we been given instead? Seats where we have 1,500 votes.”
He added that since the Akalis were part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) when the controversial farm bills were passed in 2020, they face bleak prospects in the coming elections.
“The farmers’ bills have harmed Akalis more than any party. The BSP’s dedicated workers have been raising their voices against this distribution of seats but they (BSP leadership) are not calling for another meeting,” he said. “Rather, Behenji (Mayawati) is expelling sane voices within the party. At present, the seats we have been given, we will not win any of them.”
Raju claimed the dissent is spreading. “More people will leave BSP in the coming days. Leaders are unhappy; it is just that they are not coming in front of the press,” he added.
The former BSP leader also said he was expelled through WhatsApp. “At midnight on 26th (June), the state president (Garhi) sent a message on our WhatsApp groups that I was being expelled from the party for raising my voice against the seat-sharing formula,” he said.
‘Seniors not taken into confidence’
Shalimar, on his part, alleged that no seniors were taken into confidence before the seat-sharing formula was finalised.
“First of all, the Akalis, who are already facing backlash from Sikhs, should not have been our partners. They will not gain more than 20 seats on their own,” he said. “Secondly, Behenji is calling and inviting former leaders in UP but in Punjab, she is expelling leaders from the party. Looks like she has lost interest in Punjab.”
“They are giving our strong seats to the Akalis; it is not clear whether they want the BSP to expand its base or reduce it to zero,” he added.
The BSP goes into the 2022 assembly elections on the back of its worst-ever showing in Punjab. In the 2017 polls, the party bagged a duck with its vote-share plummeting to 1.5 per cent, from the 4.29 per cent it secured in the 2012 elections. It’s also a far cry from its peak in the 1992 assembly elections, when the BSP won nine seats and secured 16.32 per cent of the vote share.
Shalimar claimed that workers are angry and not working on the ground.
“Our workers are not happy at all. Mayawati wanted to send a message by expelling Raju,” he said. “It’s a message that ‘if you raise your voice, you are nobody in the party’.”
According to Shalimar, a new front is being organised under the banner of Sajha Front Punjab for OBCs and Dalits. “There have been a few meetings in this regard over the past week,” he said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)