The complete decimation of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections is the final confirmation that the accelerating decline of her support base over the past decade has now brought her to a point of no return. Indeed, to get just a single seat out of 403 assembly seats is even more devastating than drawing a blank in the 2014 parliamentary elections; she was expected to put up at least a semblance of a fight in a regional contest in her bastion than a national one to decide who would lead the country.
This is the worst the BSP has done ever since the party first started seriously contesting the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in 1989, when it won as many as 13 seats.
Who Has Been the Chief Beneficiary?
However, what is more important than her political downfall predicted by me five years ago in the final edition of my biography, Behenji, is examining the voting pattern of Dalits, who have been the BSP’s backbone and kept it in contention even during the party’s decline. At a time when virtually every other social segment appears to have deserted Mayawati, it would be interesting to find out what percentage of Dalits have abandoned her.
A detailed analysis may have to await a more comprehensive survey of the Dalit vote, but one can try to analyse the extent of support of her own community. It’s also important to find out who has been the chief beneficiary – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Samajwadi Party – both of whom have significantly increased their vote percentage to record high scores.
How the Dalits Have Been Drifting Away
It is necessary first to divide the Dalits into Mayawati’s own sub-caste Jatavs – the core BSP support base that is estimated to be 55% of the Dalits, who comprise around 21% of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh.
The remaining 45% of the non-Jatav Dalits, who had earlier been strongly supportive of the BSP when it started making waves in the state, have not been so steadfast in their loyalty and are prone to vote for other parties as well.
An interesting picture emerges when one looks at figures from surveys done by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for Uttar Pradesh assembly polls from 2002 to 2017 on Dalit voting patterns.
The BSP got 79% Jatav vote in 2002, which rose to 86% in 2007 during her historic victory, and fell to 62% in 2012 when she lost to Akhilesh partly due to disenchantment among Dalits for not delivering on their expectations during her five-year rule.
It rose sharply to 86% in 2017, promising a return to the Dalit agenda. As for the non-Jatav vote, the BSP got:
53% in 2002
55% in 2007
45% in 2012
43% in 2017
Here is the BJP's vote share among Jatavs and non-Jatavs:
As for the Samajwadi Party, the share of Jatav vote it got was:
2% in 2002
4% in 2007
15% in 2012
3% in 2017
And for non-Jatav votes, its share was:
15% in 2002
16% in 2007
18% in 2012
10% in 2017
The figures suggest that Dalits, the only voting bloc left for Mayawati, have also been steadily drifting away towards both the BJP and Samajwadi Party, although they leaned more towards the former.
The Desertions are Higher Than Ever Before
A veteran Dalit activist based in Lucknow admitted that this time, the desertions from Mayawati’s Dalit base have been higher than ever before, and the voters have moved towards the BJP and the Samajwadi Party. According to him, almost the entire 13% vote estimated to have gone to the BSP came from the Jatav community, mostly the over-40s who still have blind faith in Behenji, who had in the past given them a taste of political power.
However, her sharp 10% drop in votes from the last elections came from desertions from the Jatav camp as well. The younger more radicalised sections voted for the Samajwadi Party (SP) to defeat the BJP, and an even larger poorer segment of the sub-caste, which was lured by Yogi government’s welfare sops like free ration, chose the BJP.
Can Akhilesh Manage to Work Out an Alliance?
The biggest blow for Behenji has been from the non-Jatav Dalits who, along with her remaining Muslim base, appear to have completely abandoned her this time. Again, much like the Jatavs, the more educated younger radical elements among other Dalit communities leaned towards Akhilesh Yadav motivated by their Ambedkarite hostility to the saffron camp. But the less literate and poorer rural segments were tempted by the offer of freebies from the ruling party, according to the Dalit activist.
With Mayawati now on the precipice of political oblivion, even her remaining Jatav vote is likely to increasingly move away from her towards the two parties who now dominate Uttar Pradesh.
At the moment, the BJP holds the advantage of luring away even more Dalit votes from Behenji unless Akhilesh manages to work out an alliance with up and coming young Dalit leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad to widen his social base.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and the author of ‘Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati’. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)