The article appeared on DailyO under the title – Dalits-Muslims will be Mayawati’s trump cards in UP polls.
In the 2007 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gave tickets to 61 Muslim candidates – 15 percent of the total BSP candidates in the elections.
In the 2012 assembly polls, the count rose to 85 seats – 21 percent of the total count.
And for the next year’s assembly polls (in 2017), the party has announced to field over 100 Muslim candidates – almost 25 percent of the 403 candidates that the party would field for the 403 assembly seats of UP – as Mayawati has announced that the BSP would not form any pre-poll alliance.
From 15 to 21 to 25 – this gradual increase in the Muslim candidates is a clever ploy and it can prove a winning element if it works as intended – because the timing is opportune and the atmosphere is conducive.
Mayawati’s focus is on the Dalit-Muslim combine this time. Dalits and Muslims are 38.5 percent in UP’s population – more than enough to give any party absolute majority in the UP assembly.
The BSP had got 30 percent votes in the 2007 assembly polls and won 206 seats. In 2012, the SP got 224 votes with a vote share of 29 percent.
So, a combine 38.5 percent makes sense to go for. And the timing is perfect. According to a CSDS report, 17 percent Muslims voted for the BSP in 2007 polls which rose to 20 percent in 2012. On the other hand, the Muslim votes to the SP saw a considerable decline – from 45 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2012.
And in the prevailing circumstances, it is expected to come down further and here Mayawati sees her prospects. The Muzaffarnagar riots, its aftermath with the stories of a life like hell in the camps for the riots affected people and the Dadri lynching incidents have eroded the credibility base of the SP among the Muslims.
To give her social engineering a Muslim tilt this time, Mayawati has decided to field over 100 Muslim candidates, mostly in the areas of dense Muslim populations of the Western UP. And we should not be surprised if the count of the Muslim BSP candidates further goes up.
It’s natural corollary then that the number of the upper caste candidates has to come down.
And they indeed have come down. The party had given tickets to 139 upper caste candidates in the 2007 assembly polls which was reduced to 117 in 2012. Now, to consolidate her Dalit-Muslim plank, the BSP may decide to slash the tickets to the upper caste candidates even further.
Doing so will address the chances of Dalit voters slipping away from the BSP fold as happened in the 2012 assembly polls. According to the CSDS analysis, 86 percent Jatav voters voted for the BSP in 2007 which drastically came down to 62 percent in 2012. Even more telling was the reduction in the Balmiki vote share which came down by over 40 percent – from 71 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012.
The major reason behind this then was ascribed to Mayawati’s increasing tilt to the upper caste voters. The alienating Dalit voters felt disillusioned probably.
Also, the upper caste bet did not play well for Mayawati in the 2012 assembly polls. Even if Mayawati had given tickets to 117 upper caste candidates in 2012, 22 less than 2007, they were still the largest block of the BSP candidates. But according to the CSDS analysis, there was only a small increase in the upper caste vote share of the party – Brahmins from 16 to 19 percent, Rajputs from 12 to 14 percent and the other upper castes from 15 to 17 percent.
Not at all anywhere near to compensating the huge loss the BSP got – of Jatav and Balmiki votes! Even the share of the other SCs in the BSP’s overall votes profile, too, came down by 13 percent – from 58 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2012.
Now if Mayawati goes full throttle behind this Dalit constituency and works to add more Muslims to her vote base, from the existing 20 percent, she will be having a winning combination then.
And to support her caste equations, she has the second most important electoral factor in her favour this time – the anti-incumbency. With her social engineering and a prevailing anti-incumbency against the Mulayam Singh Yadav government, she excelled in the 2007 polls.
In 2012, along with the disenchantment of a large section of the Dalit voters, she had behind her the anti-incumbency accumulated over the five years of her rule. Added to it was the promises of change from a young leader – Akhilesh Yadav – with a clean slate and professional education to back his credentials.
The 2012 polls saw greater jumps in the SP’s Brahmin and Rajput vote shares than the BSP – Brahmins from 10 to 19 percent and Rajputs from 20 to 26 percent, the CSDS analysis says. In fact, there was even a decline in the Yadav vote share – from 72 percent in 2007 to 66 percent in 2012. But it was compensated well with increase in more Kurmis/Koeris (17 to 35 percent), Jatavs (4 to 15 percent) and Balmikis (2 to 9 percent).
So, the upper castes showed a greater tilt towards the SP last time – in absence of any credible challenges from the BJP and the Congress – the traditional blocks for the upper caste voters.
Now that the BJP is in race, after winning 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats with a vote share of over 42 percent (along with ally Apna Dal which won two seats), the BSP may feel it is better to utilise it energy in galvanizing its traditional vote bank – the Dalits – and add a community to its profile that is traditionally anti-BJP and is feeling disenchanted with the SP – the Muslims – and leave the upper castes and the OBCs, the SP stronghold, to them.
Even the BJP strategists are reading this writing on the wall – of Mayawati’s efforts to create a winning Dalit-Muslim alliance and the party has started a campaign to counter it. The BJP is trying to send out a message that the Dalits and the Muslims have been historical adversaries. Only the poll outcome will tell how effective it is going to be.
This doesn’t mean that the BSP would abandon the upper caste plank of the its social engineering. Yes, but it would restrict its approach to them to the extent so as to not to alienate the core base it is trying to win.
And the other political block, the Congress is down and out even if there are reports that Priyanka Gandhi would spearhead the poll campaign in UP. If the party performs well, it will be nothing less than a miracle.