Making sense of Mayawati’s ambivalence

BSP is still in a position to spoil the prospects of the NDA and INDIA blocs in U.P.

Updated - September 19, 2023 09:10 pm IST

Published - September 18, 2023 01:45 am IST

BSP supremo Mayawati addresses a press conference in Lucknow. File

BSP supremo Mayawati addresses a press conference in Lucknow. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati losing grip on her vote bank? This is the question on the Uttar Pradesh’s voter’s mind following the Samajwadi Party (SP)’s victory in the Ghosi bye-elections.

Not only did the BSP decide to sit out of the contest, but Ms. Mayawati appealed to her voters to either not turn up at the election booth or press NOTA if they did. This left many confused since Ghosi is represented by BSP MP Atul Rai in the Lok Sabha. The Ghosi Assembly seat has around 90,000 Muslims and around 60,000 Dalit voters. Both communities are important for the BSP, which was created as a champion of the ‘bahujan samaj’, defined as the coalition of downtrodden minorities including Dalits, Adivasis, backward classes, and religious minorities.

The voter turnout in Ghosi saw a drop of 8% points. While the local SP leadership believes that such a drop is normal during a by-poll, sources in the BSP contend that Ms. Mayawati’s appeal to the voters was the reason for the drop. They say that the party’s core voters stayed away thanks to her call. They also recall how she ensured the SP’s defeat in the Azamgarh Lok Sabha by-poll in 2022, by fielding a Muslim candidate, to argue that the party continues to stay relevant as a third force in Uttar Pradesh politics, whether through its presence or absence from the fray.

Malook Nagar, the BSP MP from Bijnor in West U.P., said that the 13.5% vote of the BSP stands like a shaft between the NDA and INDIA blocs. “Whichever way it tilts will change the political equation in U.P.,” he said.

For now, Ms. Mayawati has decided to remain equidistant from both the blocs. She believes that this strategy could result in the emergence of a majboor (weak) party to power, which, in turn, would keep the BSP relevant. Her supporters point out that in U.P., the Congress and other members of the INDIA bloc hardly have a vote bank. “In a triangular contest, the BSP has always made its presence felt,” says senior BSP leader Suraj Singh.

However, in a polarised contest, it is unlikely that the BSP chief will have enough seats to be in a bargaining position. Her point of view suggests her own weakness rather than that of her rivals.

Also, unlike in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the BSP and the SP formed an alliance and the BSP secured 10 seats, Ms. Mayawati has decided to fight the elections alone this time. This has created a dilemma for BSP MPs: should they stay put or find a new home?

The party’s Muslim push also does not seem to be working. In Ghosi, the Muslim voters consolidated more behind the SP candidate. This is because the BSP’s decision to fight the elections alone is often construed as support for the ruling party, especially since the BSP has backed many of the NDA’s decisions. It supported the NDA’s candidates in the presidential and vice-president elections, welcomed the inauguration of the new Parliament building, and abstained from voting on the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill. Earlier, Ms. Mayawati also supported the dilution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Moreover, after its poor show in the urban local body polls, the BSP sacked Imran Masood, a political heavyweight in west U.P,. who, after an innings with the Congress and a short stint with the SP, had joined the BSP after the Assembly polls, for “anti-party activities.” Mr. Masood has been praising the Congress leadership and is reportedly in talks with the Rashtriya Lok Dal leadership.

Ms. Maywati’s absence in Ghosi is also seen as a strategic move to teach her protege Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), a lesson. After contesting the Assembly polls in alliance with the SP, Mr. Rajbhar sought an alliance with the BSP but recently joined the NDA and promised to shift the crucial Rajbhar votes in eastern U.P. to the BJP. In negating the impact of this, erstwhile BSP MLA and criminal-politician Mukhtar Ansari, an important figure in the Mau/Ghosi belt and whose son Abbas Ansari won the Mau seat on the SBSP ticket, seems to have played a part by consolidating Muslim votes towards the SP.

Apart from the BSP question, it is also pertinent to ask whether the Ghosi victory indicates that the INDIA bloc has hit the ground running. It does signify that the BJP’s alliance with Mr. Rajbhar has failed to bear fruit. The result shows that not everyone who moves to the saffron party is acceptable to the electorate.

Ms. Mayawati’s grip on the State may have diminished, but she is still a force to reckon with as she can spoil the game of both the blocs.

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