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Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Here are 5 reasons why it is unfair for BSP chief Mayawati to blame Muslim voters for the party’s dismal performance in the UP 2022 elections. And this isn’t the first time she’s doing it either. But more on that in a bit.
The BSP has won just 1 seat out of 403 seats in UP, their worst-ever performance in the state.
While commenting on the debacle, BSP supremo Mayawati remarked, “To defeat the BJP, Muslims shifted their votes from the tried and tested BSP to the SP. This wrong decision of theirs cost us heavily because the fear spread among BSP supporters, the upper-caste Hindus and OBCs that if the SP comes to power, there will be jungle raj once again. So they went to the BJP…This is a harsh lesson for us…that we trusted them…We will keep this experience in mind and change accordingly.”
But is it fair for Mayawati to react to her party’s poor performance by blaming Muslims? Not really. Here’s why.
Reason #1: BSP’s Lukewarm Election Campaign
That the BSP had a lukewarm election campaign this time was evident not just in the far fewer election rallies it held, but also in the few-and-far-between appearances of Mayawati herself. “Behenji zyada dikh nahi rahi hai” is a refrain we heard often on the ground while interacting with voters during our election coverage. This sentiment of Mayawati was spread across communities, including Dalits and Muslims. And the facts support that claim. Despite a dearth of star campaigners in the BSP, Mayawati reportedly held only around 20-odd rallies in this entire election, a far cry from the BJP and SP’s efforts to woo voters on the campaign trail.
In fact, Mayawati’s first public meeting for this election was on 2 February, just eight days before polling began in UP.
For these reasons, this was clearly an election where Mayawati and the BSP were perceived to be taking a backseat.
In such a situation, can anti-BJP voters, including Muslim voters be blamed for coalescing behind the SP, whom they saw on the campaign trail as a much stronger challenger to the BJP?
Reason #2: BSP’s Ambivalence on Muslim Sentiments
The election results and voting patterns point to a clear trend - that Muslims across the state consolidated behind the SP as they saw the Samajwadi Party as the strongest challenger to Yogi.
Mayawati may be upset about it, but here are some factors that she could consider while reflecting on why this happened.
Can a Muslim voter in UP be blamed for perceiving the BSP as ambivalent to their cause?
For example, as recently as July 2021, the BSP was out wooing Brahmin voters by promising them that they would speed up the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya if elected to power.
The Ram Mandir, being built on the site where the Babri Masjid stood till 1992, is an emotive issue for Muslim voters. And it isn’t even the only example of the BSP’s ambiguous positioning. In 2019, in the Rajya Sabha, although both SP and BSP opposed the bill criminalising instant triple talaq, yet it was the BSP that skipped voting on it. When the Supreme Court had already made the pronouncement of talaq in a single setting void in law, the Modi government’s triple talaq bill was seen by many in the Muslim community as a tool to criminalise Muslim men.
The BSP choosing to not vote on the matter was another instance of the party’s ambivalence.
Then, in October 2020, Mayawati had stated that she would ensure the defeat of the SP candidate in the upcoming MLC election even if it meant voting for the BJP. When this comment of hers wasn’t received well, she had to clarify that she would not actually consider allying with the BJP.
And given Mayawati’s laidback effort this UP election, the allegations of her providing tacit support to the BJP did gain momentum across UP. But then again, the allegations gained ground because she wasn’t seen fighting this election as hard as she could have.
And are Muslim voters to blame for that, or Mayawati herself?
Reason #3: Muslims Voted Strategically Against the BJP, Why Blame Them?
Let’s look at a couple of interesting constituencies in the 2017 UP election results to understand this point better.
In 2017, in the constituency of Bhojipura in Bareilly district, the BJP candidate Bahoran Lal Maurya won with a total of 1 lakh votes. The SP candidate Shazil Ansari came second with 72,000+ votes. And in third place was another Muslim candidate, of the BSP, who polled as many 49.8k votes.
Together, the two Muslim candidates polled over 1.22 lakh votes, significantly higher than the BJP candidate’s total. But the anti-BJP Muslim vote split up among the SP and the BSP, and the BJP ended up winning the seat comfortably.
A similar phenomenon took place in Nanpara in the district of Bahraich. In 2017, the Muslim vote had got split there between Congress candidate Waris Ali (who got over 67k votes) and BSP candidate Abdul Waheed (who got over 25k votes).
Together, their share came to above 93k votes). But given the split, the BJP candidate Madhuri Verma won with 86k votes.
Muslim votes getting split between the SP, BSP and Congress often resulted in the BJP candidate winning the seat, as evidenced in 2017.
So, what changed this time? With a consolidation of the Muslim behind SP, this phenomenon was avoided in certain places.
For example, in Bhojipura itself, Bahoran Lal Maurya once again stood on a BJP ticket, and polled over 1.09 lakh votes.
But the Muslim vote did not get split. It consolidated behind the SP candidate Shazil Ansari, who polled 1.19 lakh votes, and won the seat by a margin of 9,409 votes. Support for the BSP candidate was decisively whittled down to under 27,000 votes, making all the difference and defeating the BJP in this seat in Bareilly.
In places like Bhojipura, such strategic voting has actually served its purpose of hindering the BJP’s prospects. And it paints a picture contrary to the one BSP chief Mayawati has drawn out post the results.
Reason #4: BSP Ranks Third Among Non-Jatav Dalit Voters As Well
Now, during her post-result address, Mayawati thanked the Dalit community for backing the BSP. But let us look at what the data tells us about the Dalit vote itself.
Yes, the BSP continued to retain its hold among Jatav voters, with the Axis My India exit poll showing that 62% of Jatav voters voted for BSP.
But among non-Jatav Dalit voters, the BSP ranked third according to Axis My India. The BJP got 51% of the vote share of non-Jatav Dalits, the SP was at 27%, and the BSP a distant third at 15%.
So, even when it came to non-Jatav Dalit voters, the SP seems to have been ahead of the BSP this election.
Reason #5: With a Sea of Desertions Among Her Own MLAs, Why Blame Voters?
By June 2021, only 7 of the 19 MLAs who won on a BSP ticket in 2017 were still with the party. That’s a loss of more than 60% of the party’s MLAs in a little over four years.
The BSP has been continually ravaged by defections and ousters of senior party leaders and MLAs, such as the likes of Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar. Both Verma and Rajbhar contested the 2022 elections on an SP ticket, and both of them won.
That’s two seats in the Assembly, double of the BSP’s overall tally. Surely, defections from her own flock of leaders is a big part of the BSP’s problem. And yet another part of the problem that rests on the shoulders of the BSP alone.
Blaming Voters for Your Loss Isn’t Great Politics Either
To come out after your party’s worst electoral performance and blame a particular community or a section of voters for it isn’t great politics.
Mayawati has blamed Muslims for her party’s below-expectations performance in the past as well. She did so after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, and then again after the 2012 Assembly polls too.
It puts the responsibility of defeat outside the party instead of within it. But can doing that, in any way, help the party’s prospects going ahead, whether it’s among Muslim voters or otherwise?
In every UP Assembly election since 2007, the BSP’s total number of seats and vote share have both continued to decline. It went down from 206 seats and 30.4% vote share in 2007, to 80 seats in 2012, after which Mayawati blamed Muslims for having voted for the SP.
Then, in 2017, the tally slid further to 19 seats and 22% of the vote share. But 2022 has been the lowest of lows for the BSP - with just 1 seat and 12.9% of the vote share.
And as we’ve shown you over the course of this article, the causes for this BSP debacle stem far beyond what Mayawati would like us to believe - that it is the fault of the Muslims that BJP and not BSP won this election. If anything, it is the party itself and not the Muslim voters of UP that is to blame for BSP's standing in 2022.
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