BSP’s Elephant Walk

BSP spreading wings outside UP is more dangerous for the Congress Party than her regional alliance partners like Samajwadi Party, INLD, JD(S) and Gondwana Gantantra Party

By Asit Manohar

After clinching additional one seat in the Uttar Pradesh Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP state unit might have been elated but its National President Amit Shah was quite careful in his selection of words while congratulating the party and its various ranks of workers. He even tried to hide his joy after trumping BSP candidate Bhim Rao Ambedkar in UP Rajya Sabha Polls. Poll pundits may be mixed over such reserved reaction of the BJP President, but Satish Chandra Mishra — a close confidant of BSP Supremo must have smiled over it. After all, they had achieved a much bigger goal than a lone Rajya Sabha seat. This defeat gave BSP arsenal to target BJP for being ‘anti-Dalit’ and energize whole party cadre not just in UP but in other states where the BSP has sizable presence, especially, in states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. After Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-polls, Mayawati has once again shown her ability to transfer her votes in favour of even her arch-rivals like SP. The by-poll results also forced Mayawati to rethink her strategy for at least next two year as alliance can make BSP relevant and give Mayawati chances to flex her muscles outside UP as well. If she could win few seats in upcoming Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly polls, it would increase her bargaining power ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha Polls while discussing seat share arrangement with SP and Congress. It should be noted that the BSP has not a single MP in the Lok Sabha but it was the third most voted-for party (4.2 percent) in the 2014 general elections after BJP and the Indian National Congress.

KARNATIK RAAG

The BSP’s vote share in Karnataka witnessed gradual increase from 2004 to 2009. The party contested on nine Lok Sabha seats in 2004, securing 1.22 percent of the votes. BSP then entered the fray in 102 of the 224 Assembly constituencies during the simultaneous polls and managed to get 1.74 percent of the votes. Subsequently, during the 2008 State Assembly polls, the BSP contested 217 seats and its vote share climbed to 2.7 percent. Its presence in the poll arena had already started upsetting the traditional voting pattern. In the 2008 Assembly elections, the BSP not only came second in two seats but also ensured the defeat of Congress in 14 seats.

Therefore, sensing the 20 percent Dalit votes and BSP’s strong presence in the past, Mayawati decided to stitch a rainbow coalition with smaller parties of Karnataka headed by former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janta Dal (Secular) or JD(S). By aligning with JD(S) and other smaller parties Mayawati plans to unsettle BJP which has been traditional beneficiary of the Dalit votes. However, at the same time, the coalition has leader like Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM which is expected to attract sizable number of Muslim votes, which accounts for near 16 percent in Karnataka. Since, Deve Gowda is a Vokkaliga, which has 11 percent votes; Mayawati and Deve Gowda have tried to form a coalition of Dalit-Muslim-Vokkaliga to target near half the voters of Karnataka. Though, Mayawati is contesting on 20 seats only, BSP strength in double digit in Karnataka assembly can help her claim few (at least one) Lok Sabha seats in coming 2019 general elections.

“Any party which wants to win Karnataka, whether it’s the Congress, BJP or JD(S) will need a large chunk of the Scheduled Caste vote. This time, we have many options, and no one can take us for granted,” says Anand Kuma, the principal of a government school in Hubbali in a Dalit-dominated neighborhood. In UP, Mayawati’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha was a Dalit, Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The fact the BJP ran an upper caste trader community candidate against him will be underscored by her party.

The Dalit divide in Karnataka is broad-based and largely between the Chalavadis, referred to as ‘Right Hand’ and the Madigas or the ‘Left Hand.’ While the Chalavadis have traditionally been associated with the Congress, the Madigas drifted towards the BJP after the disintegration of the Janata Dal in the 1990s — it is this vote bank that Deve Gowda wants to recover with Mayawati’s help. His party lost around 20 seats in last state election in 2013 by less than 5,000 votes. Even a small transfer of the BSP’s Dalit votes could lead to substantial gains.

Mayawati’s foray into Karnataka also threatens the incumbent Congress, which draws its strength from AHINDA, a coalition of Alpasankhyataru or minorities, Hindulidavaru or backward classes, and Dalitaru or Dalits. While Siddaramaiah himself is from a shepherd community, the Congress has strong Dalit leaders in the state including state vice-president L Hanumanthaiah who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka in recently concluded Rajya Sabha Polls.

“Dalits in Karnataka are already angry with Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde, the MP from Uttara Kannada, for disrespecting Dr Ambedkar after he claimed his government plans to change the Indian Constitution. Now Mayawati will bring her own narrative of injury to the election and try to gain sympathy,” says Nila, a social activist from the JD(S) stronghold of Hassan. Hence, BSP’s good show in coming Karnataka Assembly Polls is expected by majority of poll observers and the BSP party workers down south.

EYE ON THREE STATE POLLS

Elections in Madhya Pradesh have always been a bi-polar contest between the BJP and the Congress, but the outcome of many of these has been affected by the BSP, which has eaten into the Grand Old Party’s vote share in the past. In fact, Digvijay Singh was able to win second term in 1998 when the Congress party was in alliance with the BSP. In the last few by-polls, however, Mayawati’s party has refrained from fielding candidates, resulting in a Congress victory, including the ones in Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly constituencies. The by-polls in Kolaras and Mungaoli saw a nail-biting finish, with the Congress emerging victorious by 8,083 and 2,142, respectively. In the 2013 Assembly elections, BSP candidates Chandrabhan Singh and Balveer and Chandrabhan Singh had received 24,000 (14.85 percent) and 12,000 (8.67 percent) votes in Kolaras and Mungaoli, respectively.

The ‘friendship’ between the Congress and the BSP has been strengthened in recent times by AICC general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh Deepak Babaria’s wish for an alliance with ‘like-minded’ parties. Though such an alliance is yet to be formalized, the BJP is already feeling the pinch. Congress sources said that given the trend, the party is planning for an alliance, or at least an understanding, with the BSP for the upcoming Assembly elections. MP Congress President Kamal Nath and senior Congress leader Mohan Prakash, along with JDU leader Sharad Yadav are discussing an alliance with the BSP.

In Madhya Pradesh, there are a total 82 SC/ST (35—SC and 47— ST) reserved seats in the state assembly, which is a major factor determining the elections. No government can come to power in this state without winning these vital seats. The Congress party’s focus for 2018 is these seats where the BSP and GGP (Gondwana Gantantra Party) plays vital role.

As per PCC spokesman Ravi Saxena, “There are 38 to 40 assembly seats where the BSP’s candidates who cut into our vote bank. Also the GGP has its influence in roughly about 22 assembly constituencies in the tribal areas. In 2013, there were 52 constituencies where the Congress party’s candidates lost to the BJP by a margin of less than 5000 votes. Party’s aim this election is to concentrate on seats where we lost by slim margins.”

Apart from Madhya Pradesh, assembly elections are due in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan too and the Congress is exploring ways to forge an electoral alliance with Mayawati-led BSP to counter the BJP.Polls to be held in the three BJP-ruled states are being billed as the semi-final to the 2019 general election when the grand old party and its allies hope to take on the saffron brigade.

A look at the 2013 Assembly elections shows that the vote share of the BSP in MP was 6.29 percent, in Chhattisgarh 4.27 percent (it oscillates between 4-6.5 percent there) and in Rajasthan 3.77 percent—significant to swing the results in favour of the Congress which had 36.38 percent, 40.29 percent and 33 percent in the three states respectively.BSP chief Mayawati appears to be game for a pact in Uttar Pradesh to defeat the BJP but would need to be convinced for MP and Chhattisgarh, said a Congress insider.

Since, Congress is in dire need of victory in these three states, Mayawati has best chances to land a good bargain. If she can fetch around 25 tickets seats in Madhya Pradesh (as it has 4 MLAs there and it was number 2/ number 3 in 29 seats) and around 15-20 seats in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, she will have a strong chance to increase her strength to double digit in these three states. And probably, Mayawati and her aides are doing the same. If reports are to be believed, Mayawati’s aides have already reached out to GGP leaders to make a bloc before entering into Congress led alliance in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as both parties have presence in sizable number of seats in both states. As Congress herself admits that it lost near 52 seats in MP in 2013 as the grand old party was not in any kind of understanding with GGP and BSP and these parties have presence in around 70 seats. If a bloc of GGP and BSP is made, they together can claim around 35-40 seats and Congress will have no choice but to succumb after few rounds of placations and bargains.

PUNJAB HARYANA RIDDLE

Punjab and Haryana are the states BSP comes from. Actually, its founder Kanshi Ram was from Punjab. He belongs to RamdasiaDalit Sikh community. After losing elections from Allahabad constituency in 1988 and East Delhi in 1991, Kanshi Ram first time entered Lok Sabha in 1996 from Hoshiyarpur constituency in Punjab. The BSP had strong presence in Punjab’s Doaba region and in 1992 Punjab Assembly Polls, BSP had polled around 16 percent votes. However, afterwards, the BSP has seen decline in its votes in Punjab. In fact from 1992 to 2014, the party has witnessed around 15 percent decline in votes. In fact, both the BSP candidates from Doaba region – Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur –forfeited their security and could not even score 1/6th of the total vote polled.In Punjab too, BSP’s vote share come down to just 1.9 percent in 2014 compared to 5.75 percent in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. However, this happened for two major reasons. First, due to negligence by the party president Mayawati, who mainly focused in Uttar Pradesh, second, emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). AAP emerged like euphoria in 2014 that proved costly for the BSP as majority of its vote bank and party cadre shifted towards AAP leading to wash out of BSP in Punjab. However, after poor show and infighting by AAP leaders in Punjab, BSP seems to have gained its lost ground. Leaders like Chaudhary Mohan Lal Banga, Balwinder Ram, Jaswinder Kaur, Surinder Singhjave joined the BSP recently, which is enough to understand the momentum coming back to BSP. BSP’s Punjab unit in-charge Meghraj seems happy with BSP high command for showing interest in Punjab affairs and assured good show in coming Lok Sabha elections while inducting Chaudhary Mohan Lal Banga — a strong Dalit face — in Punjab. If the BSP supremo can bargain few seats in Punjab for its state leaders, it has great chances of reviving the party in Punjab too, especially in Doaba region where AAP is fast losing sheen and voters are looking for an alternative leadership again.

The elephant symbol has sizable presence among the Haryana voters too. In fact, the BSP candidates were placed second in two Lok Sabha seats — Karnal and Gurgaon — in 2009 Lok Sabha Polls while it performed creditably better in three other Lok Sabha seats, eclipsing the BJP-INLD prospects. In fact BSP candidate from Faridabad polled around 1.13 lakh votes while Congress victory margin there was around 68,000. The BSP hogged around 15.73 percent of popular votes in that Lok Sabha Polls while BJP-INLD combine could muster 28.59 percent. However, in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, this number slipped to 4.6 percent which didn’t improved in 2014 State Assembly Polls in which it mustered 4.4 percent of the total votes — down by near 2.3 percent from 6.73 percent votes which it polled in 2009 Assembly Polls. Hence, taking cue from these poll outcomes, the BSP has moved towards Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) — a party dominated by Jats — to develop a Jat-Dalit combination to keep Congress away from taking advantage of the anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP both in centre and in state. This move of both INLD and the BSP deserves to create havoc among the Congress and the BJP camp as INLD had come second in 40 assembly seats of Haryana in 2014 assembly elections. Of these, in 16 seats, including some reserved ones such as Mulana, Shahbad and Sadhaura, the BSP had secured enough votes to help INLD candidates win. In another three seats — Jagadhri, Assandh and Naraingarh — the BSP was in a strong position and a push from the INLD was all they needed to win. The BJP’s major share of votes came from the seats falling in the GT Road and Southern Haryana. In the 2009 polls, when INLD lost to the Congress, its vote share was 26.5 percent. The Congress came to power with over 35 percent vote share. BSP had managed to secure more than 7 percent of the vote share in Sohna, Punahana and Prithla. The party also did well in Naraingarh, Mulana, Sadhaura, Radaur, Kalayat, Kaithal and Gharaunda. To deny Congress Party to take any advantage in the wake rising anti-incumbency against BJP, both INLD and BSP have decided to make Satluj-Yamuna Link a major poll issue ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha Polls and make Congress uncomfortable both in Punjab and Haryana.

DELHI IN DOLDRUMS

Before emergence of AAP, BSP used to poll sizable percentage of votes and was home to both Congress and BJP leaders ignored by the party high command during ticket distribution in various elections. These rebel leaders never remained loyal to the party after winning elections but voters remained loyal to the BSP.

In fact in 2009 Lok Sabha Polls, BSP’s vote share in six Delhi Lok Sabha seats was more than the difference of votes between BJP and Congress. In Chandni Chowk the difference in votes of the Congress and the BJP was 3.51 percent while BSP polled 8.23 percent; in North-East Delhi, the difference in favour of the Congress was 1.95 percent while the BSP polled 17.67 percent; in New Delhi, the Congress polled 0.65 percent more while the BSP’s share was 9.09 percent; in North-West Delhi, the Congress polled 2.70 percentage points more than the BJP while the BSP polled 16.54 percent; and in South Delhi, the Congress had 4.59 percent more votes than the BJP while the BSP’s share was a significant 24.53 percent. Even in West Delhi, where the BJP polled 1.25 percent more votes, the BSP polled 10.44 percent votes. It was only in East Delhi that the percentage of votes polled by the Congress over the BJP at 11.95 percent was more than the BSP’s vote share of 11.23 percent. Even in 2017 Delhi MCD Polls, BSP won 3 seats and logged 4.4 percent votes. If Mayawati forges an alliance either with Congress or AAP in Delhi, she can claim at least the reserved Lok Sabha constituency if not more than that.

IMPACT ONNATIONAL POLITY

From time to time, Mayawati has made it clear that she doesn’t need advice from other party leaders. In August 2017, rejecting the RJD’s invitation for a joint ‘BJP Bhagao, DeshBachao’ rally in Patna, she had said the BSP would not share the stage with any party until the contours of an alliance between them and a seat-sharing formula for the 2019 polls was finalized. “The BSP supports a secular coalition and joint struggle… but the division of seats among parties should be decided first… Coalitions end because of discord over seat-sharing,” Mayawati had said, adding that the BSP would “never compromise on getting a respectable number of seats.”

Asked about BSP’s plans for coming Lok Sabha Polls in Uttar Pradesh, BSP leader Manoj Kumar Soni, who resigned from his bureaucracy job to join the BSP said, “Its Samajwadi Party which is in comfortable position after Bahenjee’s support. As far as BSP is concerned, we still have our voters with us and fact of the matter is, on national level BSP is third largest party after BJP and Congress and second largest party after BJP in UP from vote percent perspective.”

As told by Soni, after the success of SP-BSP coming together in Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-polls, Mayawati is well aware of the fact that another conflict could arise on the issue of accommodating the Congress, an SP ally, which was reduced to just 6.25 percent vote share in UP in 2017. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (that has a base in Jat-dominated western UP) and Peace Party, that have held public meetings with Akhilesh, may also be contenders for seats as part of a grand alliance. So, rather getting dictated by Samajwadi Party for having its larger presence in both houses of the parliament and UP assembly, Mayawati is trying to create an aura of her party where BSP would be in huge demand by other parties including rivals of Congress Party in other states like Karnataka, Haryana, MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. It looks that her plans are to contest at least 30 Lok Sabha seats outside UP and pare the number of seats she would have to leave for her alliance partners in UP. One won’t feel surprised if she claims more seats than expected by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. Even 50:50 seat share in UP may not suffice Mayawati and SP and Congress will have to leave some extra seats from their quota for the BSP and other small players like RLD, Peace Party etc. But, the way Mayawati is having her elephant walk; it’s more troublesome for the Congress Party than her regional alliance partners like Samajwadi Party, INLD, JD(S) or may be AAP in Delhi.