The results of Uttar Pradesh elections have been declared and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has managed to win just a single seat in the state. Even Congress and ‘Raja Bhaiyya’s’ party have won more seats than the BSP. The party had won 19 seats in 2017.
As many as 13 of the 18 seats it lost have been bagged by the Samajwadi Party (SP)-led alliance, and five seats by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance.
What a fall from grace for the party and Mayawati, who has been the Chief Minister of the state four times. In a bipolar election, the BSP got squeezed out between the SP and the BJP, with its vote share shrinking to 12.9% (-9.5%).
Is this the final nail in the coffin for Mayawati and the BSP? Is the party that has shaped the Dalit politics of Uttar Pradesh in the last three decades nearing extinction?
The BSP was in contention (winner and runner-up) in only 17 seats vis-à-vis 138 in 2017.
BSP in Contention in 2022 vs 2017 (Source: ECI)
‘Behenji’ was late to hit the campaign trail. The BSP had faced a massive exodus of leaders in the run-up to the polls. The party is still living in its past glory, not realising how the state’s politics has changed over the years. The BSP has managed to keep just its Jatav vote intact at 62%, but there, too, the BJP and the SP have made some dent (-21%).
The BJP has also bagged the majority of the non-Jatav vote, with 51% support. The BSP is now the number-three party behind the SP among non-Jatavs, who were once her core vote base. Muslims have ditched the party completely and backed the SP, even though the BSP gave more tickets to Muslim candidates.
The party also didn’t reap any benefits from giving 27% of its tickets to Brahmins and Thakurs. It couldn’t win a single SC-reserved seat despite giving a higher number of tickets to SCs (93) than the 85 seats reserved for them.
The BSP is hardly being perceived as having the potential to beat the BJP, which prevented swing voters from supporting it. The SP garnered the media space of the opposition, which further harmed its prospects. Non-core voters didn’t wish to vote for a losing horse in the contest, which turned bipolar from triangular.
Caste Community Wise Support for BSP (Source: Axis Exit Poll)
The party is constrained by the fact that it has nothing to offer except for caste-based politics in Uttar Pradesh. Only 4% of voters cast their vote on the basis of caste as per the Axis survey; this number for the BSP is 25%.
Mayawati has lost sheen as a firehouse speaker, which is evident from her speeches. She has also lost the mass connect with voters. The BSP has been reduced to a family-controlled party run by Mayawati, her brother and his son. There is no official succession plan in place.
New entrants like Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan are attracting the youth among Dalits. The BJP has taken over a majority of non-Jatavs and is also making inroads among Jatavs this time.
Who did BSP’s weakening benefit?
The BSP has lost 9.5% of its vote share compared to 2017. Almost one-third of it (3.2%) has gone to the BJP, mostly comprising Jatavs and non-Jatav voters. The remaining two-thirds (6.3%) has moved towards the SP as per my calculations, comprising mostly non-Dalit voters of the BSP, and some non-Jatavs as well.
The BSP recorded more vote share than the victory margin of seats in 243 seats, indicating that it acted as a spoiler in those seats. Of these, 144 were won by BJP+ and nine by SP+. On a net basis, the BSP’s weakening helped the BJP win 47 more seats than the SP (144 minus 97).
This means that Mayawati’s loss helped the BJP win more seats compared to the number of seats where it helped the SP, thus harming the BJP’s prospects.
Isn’t this counter-intuitive? Though two-thirds of the BSP’s vote share loss went to the SP, the BJP still ended up winning more seats because of Behenji’s weakening.
This is because in these seats, it helped the BJP cross the threshold more than it helped the SP bridge the gap. In fact, it widened the gap in many seats.
What next for Mayawati?
BSP risks losing relevance in an increasingly pro- and anti-BJP environment building up nationally as well as in Uttar Pradesh. Rumours of the BSP being the B-Team of the BJP have worsened the party’s prospects, as anti-BJP voters are shifting to the SP and anti-SP to the BJP.
The only solace Mayawati can draw from the results is that the BSP has emerged as having the strongest committed voter base (20% as per Axis exit poll).
The majority of the votes lost to the SP is on account of the bipolarity of the election, leading to the redistribution of its votes, mostly non-Dalits. If Mayawati is willing to slog on the field in the next five years, raise people’s issues and convince minority voters that Akhilesh cannot defeat the BJP (citing the example of the last four elections in 2014, 2017, 2019, 2022) and she can, only then can the party survive. Otherwise, it’s the end of the road for the elephant.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)