The contest in Uttar Pradesh is increasingly turning bipolar, with Samajwadi Party (SP) emerging as the main contender to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While both Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav have started their poll campaigns, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its Chief Mayawati haven’t hit the campaign trail yet.
BSP’s performance has been on a steady decline in UP after having stormed to power in 2007 with 206 seats. Its tally fell to 80 in 2012, and a mere 19 in 2017. In terms of vote share, its support base has tempered down from 30% to 22% during the same period. C-Voter predicts that its vote share could plunge by another 7% to 15% in 2022, while its tally would more or less remain at levels similar to 2017.
A Slew of Challenges for BSP
The 2022 polls present in many ways an existential crisis for the BSP. The party is facing challenges on many fronts:
Mayawati is fast losing her sheen and charisma
There is no successor in place
Big leaders have exited from the party
Allegations that BSP is hand in glove with BJP is hurting party prospects
Loss of even its core non-Jatav voters to BJP has complicated matters
All these point to the fact that BSP is struggling to remain relevant. The party doesn’t have any anchor voting segment left, except for Jatavs, the caste to which Mayawati belongs. Mayawati is also losing support to new-age Dalit parties, like the one led by Chandrasekhar Azad Ravan. His party is slowly gaining traction amongst youth, especially in Western Uttar Pradesh. He may also form an alliance with SP.
The party has been losing support across all caste and religious groups including its core vote block of Dalits (Scheduled Caste) as shown in the table below. Dalits account for 21% of state population, Jatavs 12% and non-Jatavs 9%.
BSP May Be Reduced to Just a Jatav Party
The decline in support has been the most brutal amongst the SCs (-24%) as the BJP has successfully created a wedge between Jatavs and non-Jatavs. The BSP risks being reduced to just a Jatav party in 2022. In the 2019 general elections, the BJP bagged 60% of non-Jatav votes.
The most pertinent question is, who benefits from the decline of BSP? The current loss of support is mostly shifting towards the SP, which is seen gaining from 22% in 2017 to 31% in 2022 as projected by C-Voter.
To answer this question in detail, we need to first figure out the build-up of vote share of the BSP. Its 22% vote share comprises 13% from SC, 3% each from OBCs and Muslims, and 2% from upper caste. So, in effect, 13% from Dalits and 9% from other communities.
This 9% vote share that it gets from non-Dalits is under pressure in 2022. This is available for poaching. The 7%, which the SP is seen gaining in 2022 C-Voter survey, could be mostly coming from this block. As of now, the BSP seems to be holding onto its Dalit vote bank as its projected vote share is 15%.
So, clearly, the decline of the BSP is benefiting the SP consolidate the anti-BJP votes in the state. But this has already hit a ceiling (7% of the 9% other communities vote share has already shifted to the SP as per surveys).
Even if the SP manages to poach the balance 2% other communities voters, its projected vote share would jump from 31% to 33%, still 7%-8% short of BJP’s projected vote share of 40%-41%.
SP is Gaining, But the Road Remains Tough
This means that the SP now needs to wean away the Dalits, specifically the Jatav voters, from the BSP. However, herein lies the challenge. It could gain some support by aligning with Chandrasekhar Azad’s party. The social engineering that it is trying to create is very difficult. The vote block of Jats – Muslims – Dalits and Yadavs, consist of fairly antagonistic segments.
The Dalits, the poor and the downtrodden suffer the most in case of communal riots as their establishments are mostly located in the outskirts of villages. A section of Dalits who work as labourers in the fields of Jats and Yadavs also complain of oppression.
The BJP, too, is wooing Dalit voters, specifically Jatav voters loyal to BSP. Nationally, the BJP has been winning the majority of SC-reserved seats in the last two elections. In 2019, it received 41% Dalit support at all-India level. Non-Jatavs have received some representation in Yogi Adityanath’s ministry. The BJP is portraying the BSP as a sinking ship and offering Jatav voters a share in the power pie if they hop onto its bandwagon.
The current slide in the BSP’s vote share is benefiting the SP. However, it needs to woo the Dalit voters of BSP to dislodge the BJP from power.
However, as mentioned above, that is not going to be easy. BJP could end up getting a section of the BSP’s Dalit support to neutralise the momentum of SP, going into the polling day. A fairly exciting contest is on the anvil.
(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.)