Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati chose Jatav stronghold Agra for her first rally for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Talking from the dais, she said, “Elephant is the BSP party symbol, and you – Dalits, are a huge proportion of the voters like an elephant. Ensure that the BSP wins the election,” Mayawati said. She went on to criticise the media and the other parties for "taking the BSP lightly" – claiming that her party is coming back to power in UP like it did in 2007.
Better late than never, but what is the message Mayawati was trying to convey to her supporters from Agra? And the question is – is there any truth to her claims?
What Was Mayawati's Message to Her Supporters?
Mayawati sent three important messages from Agra to her supporters.
First, she is an active player in the elections. “The other parties are misusing media, and surveys to create an atmosphere in their favour. They say Mayawati is not being seen anywhere in UP during elections. Such news flashes have become common. But truth is that I have been in Lucknow for the last one year,” she said.
Second, she claimed that the BSP was deceived in the last elections. “A few of the senior leaders of the party shifted sides last time and backstabbed us. Many dummy candidates were fielded to affect the result of the BSP. This time, I have met each of the party candidates personally, so that there is no backstabbing,” she said, hinting at Swami Prasad Maurya.
Third, she claimed that efforts are being made to break the morale of her party cadre. “There is an effort to break the morale of the cadre of the party. I am very much in this election, but there's a lot of misinformation being spread about me. I went to Delhi only for two days when my mother passed away. Last year, I have strengthened the cadre at booth level and prepared new faces to take the fight ahead. You should not get misguided by anyone and remember, do not eat on election day till you have cast your vote,” she said.
A Sustained Campaign Against Mayawati
But can Mayawati really repeat the success of 2007?
The BSP got around 20 percent votes in the Lok Sabha elections from 1996 to 2019. The party got around 30 percent votes in Assembly elections held during 1996-2019. The party got 30 percent of the vote share when it formed a government on its own in 2007. Moreover, its vote share has not gone by below 20 percent in any election. Even in 2017, when the BSP won mere 19 seats in UP, the lowest in its history, the party had got a 22 percent vote share. Besides Jatavs, the Muslims, Brahmins, and a few other segments of non-Jatav voters are BSP supporters but the situation is not rosy enough for Mayawati in this election.
There is a sustained campaign against Mayawati in this election claiming that she is not active and has been working as B-team of the BJP. It is being claimed that the BSP will go with the BJP after the election.
This has created some flutter in the minority support base of the party while Brahmins remains confused. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is being accused of being anti-Brahmin, but Brahmins also do not want to miss the bus if the BJP comes back to power.
Moreover, the Congress has improved its standing in a few pockets which may divide the Brahmin voters. This will also affect the support base of the BSP in this election. Chandrashekhar Azad is also claiming non-Jatav Dalit voters from the the BSP fold. In the last few years, Azad has been comparatively more vocal than Mayawati on Dalit issues. Thus, the Jatav support base may remain intact with the BSP, but other Dalit voters may shift to Azad or to the Congress, showing green shoots under Priyanka Gandhi as state in-charge.
The BSP secured 19.3 percent votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the lowest ever in the history of the party.
“Mayawati began her election campaign from Agra, a Jatav stronghold. Mayawati is focusing on the seats where she has a traditional support base. She is aiming to keep the third force intact in UP. This is exactly why instead of wandering around in the whole state; she is going to the areas where she knows her community will support her. Candidates will also pitch in their efforts but there is not much hope for the party this time,” Ram Dutt Tripathy, a senior journalist based in Lucknow, told The Quint.
Losing the Perception War
Mayawati is losing the perception war in the UP election. She knows it – and so, in her 35-minute speech, she tried to do away with the popular narrative. But the fact is that Mayawati was missing from the television screens or the headlines for quite some time. She is relying on her old-school trick of appealing to her loyal support base of Dalit voters that largely remain silent amidst the din during the elections.
The core vote bank of Mayawati is still intact but the floating support base may go away due to the narrative propagated by the other parties. The Muslim support base of the BSP, meanwhile, had got divided in the 2017 Assembly elections.
Currently, what is being believed by most is that only the Samajwadi Party (SP) can defeat the BJP, and Muslims may support it en masse.
Mayawati also mentioned her spectacular electoral win in 2007. “The win will be like that of 2007,” she said. But in 2007, there was a wave against Mulayam Singh Yadav, and people did not have other options like the BJP or Congress. The popular perception that only the BSP could defeat the SP had set the narrative.
The popular narrative of the UP election being a fight between the BJP and the SP is also not helping the cause of the BSP. Moreover, there are no serious hints that Mayawati is fighting the election to snatch the power back.
(This article first appeared on Quint Hindi. It has been translated by Arvind Singh.)