Elusive Dalit Votes for BJP or More Opposition Room for Congress-SP. Who Gains from Mayawati's Twist?

Pranshu Mishra
·5-min read

As journalists waited for BSP chief Mayawati’s media address on Thursday morning, most of them expected it to be loaded with a strong attack against the Samajwadi Party and its president Akhilesh Yadav. No one, however, expected that she would go to the extent of preferring the “Saffron BJP over the SP”. Though Mayawati said it only in context of the legislative council elections, her words were quick to be picked up by her rivals.

First to launch an attack was Congress general secretary in-charge of UP Priyanka Gandhi, despite the fact that the BSP chief’s ire was entirely focused against the SP and its leadership. Priyanka jumped in the fray, suggesting that “no more proof is required to unmask the BJP-BSP understanding”. Posting an excerpt from Mayawati’s press statement, Priyanka tweeted: “Is anything left to be said after this?”

Soon, many from the Samajwadi Party camp were also out in the open, further propelling the argument that there was an “understanding between the BJP and the BSP”. SP leader Juhi Singh tweeted: “BJP IS BSP AND BSP IS BJP”.

SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, however, himself remained silent, choosing not to respond to even personal attacks.

Mayawati’s sharp attack and limited endorsement for the BJP came in the backdrop of 48 hours of intense political fight that played out over elections to 10 Rajya Sabha seats. The fact that the BSP has fielded a candidate despite having no capacity to win a seat had already given rise to much speculation of a “deal” between her party and the BJP. Further nomination of a SP-supported Independent candidate was seen as an attempt to puncture this understanding.

After day-long moves and counter moves on either side, the nomination of the Independent candidate, Prakash Bajaj, was cancelled, thus paving the way for BSP candidate Ramji Guatam’s certain unopposed win, but the Samajwadi Party claimed to have achieved success in “exposing the BJP-BSP bonhomie”. This, followed by Mayawati’s statements, has now laid a new pitch in state’s political dynamics. The question is will it help SP and Congress, or can BJP hope to gain out of it.

WILL BSP’S POSITION ENSURE LESSER DIVISION OF NON-BJP VOTES?

Can the latest political moves and Mayawati’s press statement mark the beginning of new electoral alignment in the caste and religion-defined politics of the state? For the moment, the non-BJP Parties feel so.

Both the Samajwadi Party and the Congress see the developments as vindication of their allegation that the BSP and the BJP are one and the same. They hope to unclutter the anti-BJP political space by ejecting the BSP.

Both Congress and SP have been competing to reach out to minorities, which is seen as one solid voting bloc in UP. Minorities constitute well above 20% of the state’s population and have a decisive role to play on many seats, especially in western Uttar Pradesh.

In 2017, a big reason behind the BJP’s spectacular win in the state elections was also attributed to confusion among minority voters. The BSP had then fielded around 100 Muslim candidates. With BSP re-calibrating its political pitch ahead of 2022 polls, this division of Muslim votes might be far lesser.

The opposition senses a large catchment area among other communities which may not be favourably disposed towards the BJP. For instance, the Brahmin community, which the BSP has sought to mobilise in the past as well.

Samajwadi Party MLC Udaiveer Singh says, “We all have respect for behen Mayawati ji, but her recent moves raise a lot of questions. Dalits, too, have been marginalised and targeted under the BJP rule. We are sure her moves will also not go unnoticed by Dalits as well.”

Congress’s state organisation secretary Anil Yadav says, “History shows the BSP and BJP have together formed a government in Uttar Pradesh. Hence, her latest support for the BJP should not come as a surprise. Our leader Priyanka Gandhi for long has been warning people about this bonhomie between the BSP and the BJP.”

Clearly, both SP and Congress are hopeful that the trifurcation of non-BJP votes will be checked.

BJP HOPES CONSOLIDATION OF THE DALIT VOTE

Contrary to the analysis of the SP and Congress, the BJP is viewing the emerging politics from a different vantage point. The party hopes that the BSP chief’s open positioning can give it a better space amid the strong Dalit electorate. Around 20% population of the state is from the Dalit castes. The BJP in its electoral consolidation over the years has made successful dent in the non-Yadav OBC vote bank, but its strategy among the Dalits has yielded varying success.

Among the Dalits, the biggest chunk of Jatavs has been more or less intact with the BSP. The BJP, though, has been able to establish a strong foothold among other Dalit castes like the Pasis, Valmikis and Sonkars. Party strategists feel that the perception of BJP-BSP understanding will now work in its favour on seats where the BSP is not in a position to win. Voters loyal to the BSP can choose to vote for the BJP.

A senior BJP leader not wishing to be named said, “Whenever the Samajwadi Party has been in power, it’s the Dalits who have faced maximum atrocities. The exploitation of Dalits especially by Yadavs becomes a norm. Hence, one can hope their priority will be to keep the SP or any party that can work with it, out of power.”

BJP’s state vice president Santosh Singh told News18: “The BJP has never done politics on the basis of caste. Dalits are witnessing the rule of law and peace during Yogi Adityanath’s government. As far as the SP is concerned, gunda raj and jungle raj are synonyms of its rule. People of UP will keep these facts in mind.”

Naturally, the party with 50% plus vote share in 2017 elections seems confident about its hold among the upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and now also about the Dalits.

DELIBERATE MOVE OR MISTAKE BY MAYAWATI?

With multiple arguments from either side, the question also arises if declaring support for the BJP is just a move for council elections in January or meant to merely test waters.

For the party whose Muslim experiment failed in 2017 and which chose to walk out of the Mahagathbandhan with SP after 2019 polls, the possibility of new political experiments cannot be ruled out.