New Delhi: Last week, the BJP wrested the Azamgarh and Rampur seats from the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the by-elections to the UP Lok Sabha constituencies. The seats were once considered strongholds of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and party veteran Azam Khan.
The BJP, it seems, could have Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati to thank for this win.
Mayawati did not field a BSP candidate in Rampur — seemingly to avoid splitting the Dalit vote, making it a straight face-off between the BJP and the SP. In Azamgarh, she fielded a Muslim candidate, Guddu Jamali, in a move that appeared to be aimed at splitting the SP’s Muslim vote, and benefitting BJP candidate Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ of the OBC Yadav community.
In Rampur, the BJP’s Ghanshyam Lodhi, another OBC candidate, defeated the SP’s Asim Raza by 42,192 votes.
Speaking to ThePrint, Shashi Kant Pandey, a professor at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, said “Mayawati knows she can’t win the election with just Jatav-Dalit votes”.
“The other non-Jatav Dalits have already migrated to the BJP. Among the upper castes, her effort to woo Brahmins to win the UP elections failed,” he added.
“Now, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, her immediate aim is to weaken the SP and send a message to their cadres that Dalit-Muslim unity can happen, that Muslims are drifting away from the SP, and that Muslims are not the SP’s property. If she manages to get a slice of the Muslim votes in the Lok Sabha poll, it will be a big win for Mayawati,” he added.
Before the bypoll result, Mayawati Saturday took another decision that favoured the BJP — to lend support to the NDA’s presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu. She justified her decision, saying that tribals have been an essential part of the BSP movement in the past.
These are not the only instances where the decisions taken by the BSP, once the champion of Dalit identity politics and a dominant party in UP, have directly benefitted the BJP.
According to Pandey, among other things, Mayawati also wants to stay on the BJP’s good side “to escape investigations by central agencies”.
“At her age, she lacks the determination to fight central agencies and the almighty BJP. She has already promoted her family member [brother Anand Kumar] to a crucial post in the BSP as part of her succession plan,” said Pandey.
However, speaking to ThePrint, BSP MP Ram Shiromani Verma said that the impression that the BSP is “helping” the BJP is wrong. “Azamgarh election proved that Muslims are not the property of the SP. We will get Muslim votes in 2024 along with Dalit votes. Only we can fight the SP.”
A BJP insider told ThePrint that their entire focus is on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls now. “Our common political enemy is the SP, who gained 32 per cent vote share in assembly polls and is 125 seats strong,” the insider said.
“The BSP will help the BJP in a triangular fight in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as, with only one community [Jatavs], it can’t manage to repeat its 2019 performance [when BSP won 10 seats] and, in a bipolar fight, the SP can dent the BJP in a big way. It is necessary to break the SP’s Muslim and OBC votebank. No other party but the BSP can help us do it. Ultimately, the gain will be ours. It’s simple maths.”
Mayawati’s quiet show of support
Over the years, Mayawati has appeared to back the BJP in different ways.
In July 2019, when the Centre tabled the Triple Talaq Bill in Parliament, the BSP helped the government indirectly by abstaining from voting. In August 2019, Mayawati surprised everyone by supporting the Centre’s decision on the scrapping of Article 370.
In March, during the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the BSP, having calculated that the Muslim-Yadav combine could favour the SP, fielded 88 Muslim candidates against the party.
None of the BSP’s candidates won, but this is believed to have split the Muslim vote, and the BJP won in many of these pockets.
Moreover, she addressed only 18 public rallies, against Akhilesh’s 117 and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s 203. Her lack of aggression and apparent ditching of the non-Jatav Dalits reduced her to just one seat in the UP assembly. Even the RLD did better. It fielded 33 seats in alliance with the SP and managed to bag eight.
Mayawati, who had a 22 per cent voteshare in 2017, is now left with 12 per cent voteshare in 2022, mainly Jatavs — her worst performance since 2017, when she won 19 seats. In 2019, she won 10 Lok Sabha seats in alliance with the SP.
Badri Narayan, professor at G.B. Pant Social Institute, Allahabad, said “the BSP’s shrinking base actually helped the BJP”.
“The other Dalit groups who benefited from Modi welfarism deserted the BSP in the absence of Mayawati’s lack of aggression on Dalit issues and the BJP-RSS’s aggressive approach to woo them. Moreover, without avenues for growth, many of the big Dalit leaders, such as Lalji Verma, Ram Achal Rajbhar and Indrajit Saroj, deserted the BSP to join SP.”
BSP-BJP bonhomie not one-sided
In November 2020, during the Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP could have easily won nine seats from the state with the help of others allies, but the party fielded only eight candidates, ensuring BSP’s Ramji Gautam won one seat.
In February, during the UP polls, when the fight was threatening to become bipolar — between the SP and the BJP — Union Home Minister Amit Shah unexpectedly praised Mayawati during a TV interview, saying, “I believe the BSP will get votes. I don’t know how many will convert into seats, but it will get votes”.
This remark triggered speculations of a post-poll alliance, but essentially the BJP roused the BSP into staying in the fight since it needed the party to win eastern UP.
Mayawati, for her part, responded to this rare gesture with, “Yeh unka badappan hai ki unhone sach ko sweekar kiya (he is noble to have accepted the truth).”
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)