No one makes electoral strategy as clear as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati.
For UP 2017 Asembly elections, she is loud and clear about her banking on an unbeatable electoral arithmetic of Dalit-plus-Muslim votebank. Together, these groups account for 40 per cent of the electorate. With some other small groups wrapped around this electoral set, the elections would be a cakewalk for her.
Or, so you would think.
Mayawati has the single biggest electoral block of Dalits, commanding 21 per cent of share behind her. Even half of the 19 per cent Muslim vote share can catapult her to the UP CM chair. But most opinion polls and psephologists are predicting a SP-Congress combine versus BJP, relegating BSP to a distant third. Even ground reports present a conspicuous absence of BSP from the discourse.
In a larger frame, this looks a half-baked prediction arising out of sheer ignorance of recent political history and the massive support base BSP enjoys. Mayawati is the tallest Dalit leader in the country and enjoys an unwavering support (specifically from the Jatavs who make 70 per cent of the Dalit base).
|Mayawati is the tallest Dalit leader in the country.
Even in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when BSP failed to win a single seat, the party enjoyed a 20 per cent vote share. And she has a history of five years of good law and order under her, for electorates to reckon with. But most opinion polls predict that BSP has been unable to add much to the 20 per cent vote share the party managed in 2014, and the electoral calculation of a possible coming together of Dalit-Muslim votebank falling flat.
So what seems to have gone wrong?
Relying too much on Muslim shift
Mayawati is relying too much on a shift in the Muslim vote bank from their traditional choice - SP. There were several faultlines in SP’s regime that could have propelled this shift, but Mayawati missed those opportunities. After the Muzzafarnagar riots and the Dadri lynching, there was popular mood among the Muslim community against the Akhilesh government, but an astute politician like Mayawati missed it, waking up only six months before the elections to stitch a possible combination of Muslim vote with her core support group.
This shift won’t be as organic as she possibly considers it to be. Muslims have traditionally seen SP as their "protectors" and Mayawati has a historic burden of sharing power with the BJP. The Congress factor as the alliance stitched up with SP has further convoluted this calculation. Even at its weakest, Congress does enjoy some sympathy among the community and does lend the anti-BJP flavour to the alliance.
Past experiences also suggest that Muslims vote for the strongest combination against the BJP, which, at present, seems SP-Congress and not BSP.
|Mayawati has the single biggest electoral block of Dalits commanding 21 per cent of share behind her.
For BSP, this over-reliance of a possible shift of Muslims - who see BSP as the second-best choice only - could make OBC Hindus suspicious of BSP and gravitate towards the BJP or SP. The non-Yadav OBC votebank forms a bulk of the floating 33 per cent vote share and BSP has so far failed to design a decisive strategy to win their support.
On the other hand, BJP has taken some serious steps (including making an OBC party president) to win loyalty of this shifting votebase which sided with it in 2014.
No serious outreach
BSP is the strongest in western UP and Muslim population share in this region is higher than its share in the entire state. A possible Dalit-Muslim combine can help her sweep the first two phases of the elections and a clear sweep will improve her chances in the other five phases as well. But this doesn’t seem to be happening.
Mayawati has done little to build base among other communities, all she has relied on is plain arithmetic. In 2007 she picked a Brahmin base to build her electoral strategy around it. With that gone, she has brought in the Muslim base. Not only has she not been able to pick matters related to the Muslim constituency, but her party also lacks credible Muslim leaders for a serious outreach.
BSP relies entirely on Naseemuddin Siddiqui, who isn’t as tall a leader as, say, Azam Khan, or enjoys credibility like Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Furthermore, Muslim social and historical figures have rarely figured in Mayawati's speeches the way Dalit figures have. BSP doesn’t enjoy much support from Muslim clerics, who favour the SP. In its five-year rule, BSP didn’t make any serious effort to raise issues close to Muslim identity or culture.
Too Delhi to be local
Mayawati’s decision to be more in Delhi and less in Lucknow and other districts of UP would come back to haunt her. There's no doubt that she has built her party and her support group brick by brick, but the five years of Akhilesh government have been marked by her conspicuous absence from the UP battlefield.
She was less visible and audible in 2014, so much so that BJP managed to even penetrate her core base. She chose not to contest the by-elections when BJP was clearly building up its base and barely visited districts and villages, even when issues like beef and Love Jihad were doing the rounds.
Over these years, she has taken intriguing positions and BSP is now less seen as leading street agitations or social movements, which, for long, had been ingrained in its ideology. Instead, the BSP supremo prefers to remain confined to parliamentary debates.
She has over these years maintained a fair distance from the media, though the party has made some attempts lately. However, the Rahul-Akhilesh bonhomie and their combined attack on BJP has gathered more space on media than her.
This means that on core issues she hasn’t been able to connect with floating masses and present her viewpoints. Facing a young CM, who has managed to beat anti-incumbency, and a media-savvy BJP, Mayawati's invisibility and lack of connect with the larger base, could cost her the battle.
Fielding Muslim candidates
BSP’s sole plan to garner Muslim votes has been fielding more Muslim candidates. By giving 100 tickets to Muslims, she is basically repeating the 2007 experiment with Brahmins. She managed to increase her vote share among Brahmins, though the majority still went to BJP. But there is an inherent difference between Brahmins and Muslims.
As her close aide Satish Mishra has famously said "Ek Brahmin apne sang saat jaat lata hai" (one Brahmin gets seven other castes with him). Muslims are themselves a segregated voter base and a political clamour of this scale to get Muslim vote could make other castes politically averse to her.
The coalition she is trying to build is not built on a common political platform, and even her core voter base doesn’t find an ideological commonality with Muslims. Mayawati too hasn’t done much groundwork. Except for ticket distribution, she hasn’t held rallies (the first being planned on February 2) in Muslim areas or spent time in Muslim quarters or championed their causes.
Question of survival
Opinion polls are predicting BSP losing close to five per cent vote share and sliding to a distant third position with 40-50 seats. Mayawati knows that this is her toughest battle and UP is not very kind to losers. With not much to build on her core vote base, Behenji could find herself slipping into oblivion, much like the Congress.
A loss in these elections would mean out of power for ten years in a row, reduced Rajya Sabha seats and loss of confidence of her cadre to propel her back in 2019. This could also make her voter base, especially the non-Jatavs, shift towards greener pastures. With its Dhamma Chetna Yatra, BJP has shown that an alternative exists, and if the saffron party fails, there is always Congress which is looking to increase its strength in UP after its alliance with the SP.
With SP-Congress and BJP seen as contenders to the throne, a plausible shift of loyalty towards the winning alliance would keep non-Jatavs close to the power circles. UP politics is ruthless and the past has shown that being out of power for a long time is akin to political casualty.