Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Oct 10, 2018
Mayawati’s political relevance: Myth and reality  

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo and four times Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is much in demand these days. Her quality of political unpredictability keep her friends and foes on toes. She can turn friends into foes and vice-versa without even batting her eyelid.

True to her style, Dalit leader gave a shock to political observers when she announced an alliance with former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh for the assembly polls and further deciding to go alone in coming Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly elections.

Mayawati, a crafty political being, kept the door for an alliance for the Lok Sabha elections with the Congress ajar. She praised former and present Congress chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi while going hammer and tongs against former MP chief minister Digvijay Singh, holding him responsible for not being able to reach an electoral understanding on seats in the State.

While there was gloom and despondency in the opposition camp whose leaders were hoping to build a grand alliance to defeat the BJP in not only election going States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but also in general elections, there were jubilations in the BJP-led NDA on Mayawati’s decision to chalk out an independent path.

Entire narrative about Mayawati’s overestimated and much-hyped charisma or hold over Dalit voters, particularly among Jhatavs, has been built and sustained over time by commentators and analysts who either willingly or unknowingly have overlooked changing political realities. Those who argue for an alliance with the BSP are confident that she can transfer Dalit votes to a candidate whom she backs.

This was true a decade back when Mayawati became the Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister for the fourth time in 2007 with a clear majority. The BSP won 206 seats in a 403-member assembly polling 30.43 percent votes. Mayawati was at the peak of her political career nursing the dream of the prime ministerial chair. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP went on to win 20 seats with 27.42 percent popular votes.

Since 2009, the BSP’s hold on voters has been on decline. She lost power in 2012 assembly elections and the BSP could not win even a single seat in the 2014 general elections. The BSP polled 19.60 percent votes that was 7.82 percent lower to 2009. In 2017 assembly elections, the BSP could win 19 seats polling 22.2 percent popular votes. It was worst electoral performance of Mayawati since she became the party’s unchallenged leaders after the death of BSP founder president Kanshiram in 2006.

The BSP, in fact, matters the most in Hindi heartland States of UP, Uttarakhand, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In Uttarakhand, the BSP won 7 seats with 10.93 percent popular votes in 2003 that went to 8 seats with 11.76 percent votes in 2007. In 2012 elections, the BSP could win 3 seats while its poll percentage went up to 12.19 percent. In 2017 assembly election, the BSP failed to win a single seat and its popular votes came down to 7 percent.

The support base of the BSP in the polling going States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan has been in serious decline over the past few elections. In Madhya Pradesh, the party has slumped from 10.61 percent in 2003 to 9.08 percent in 2008 to 6.42 percent in 2013. In Chhattisgarh, the fall has been from 6.94 in 2003 to 6.12 in 2008 to 4.29 in 2013. Rajasthan saw a decline from 6.40 in 2003 to 7.60 in 2008 to 3.48 in 2013.

A close look at the election results reveal that majority of seats that the BSP wins in the Hindi speaking states are of general category and not reserved seats for Schedules Castes. For example in 2008, the BSP forfeited its deposit in Madhya Pradesh in 194 seats out of 228 seats it chose to contest. The figure of candidates who lost their deposits went up to 194 out of 227 seats it contested in 2013.

In Rajasthan in 2003, the BSP contested124 seats winning 2 seats but forfeiting deposits in 110 seats while polling 3.97 percent of popular votes. Its performance improved in 2008 when Mayawati was in power in the neighbouring State of Uttar Pradesh. The BSP had contested 199 seats winning 6 seats with a poll percentage of 7.60 percent while losing deposit in 172 seats. After her defeat in UP in 2012, the BSP contested 195 seats winning 3 seats with popular votes percentage nosediving to 3.7 percent. The BSP forfeited deposits in 182 seats.

In 2003 in Chhattisgarh, the BSP had contested 54 seats and had won 2 polling 4.45 percent popular votes while forfeiting deposits in 46 seats. The party’s performance improved in 2008 when it contested all 90 seats winning only 2 but its popular votes going up to 6.11 percent. In 2013, its base began to shrink as despite contesting 90 seats it could win only one seat and popular votes plummeting to 4.27 percent. It lost deposits in 84 seats.

Figures clearly reflect that Mayawati’s claim of having an unshakable hold on Dalit population of the country is well-cultivated myth. A caste and community post-poll survey of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) conducted after the 2013 assembly polls Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh further explodes the Maaywati’s claim.

In MP, both the Congress with 33.1 percent and the BJP with 35.8 percent appeared to have more support among scheduled caste electorate than the BSP with 22.4 percent. In Chhattisgarh only 11.5 percent Dalits said that they voted for the BSP compared to 48.7 percent for the Congress. In Rajasthan merely 19.5 percent Jatavs who are the core constituency of Mayawati declared that they vote for the BSP. None among other sub-castes of Dalit said they voted for the BSP. The Congress, on the contrary, fared much better with 46 percent support among Jatavs and 44 percent from other scheduled castes.

Above figures explain as why the State leadership of the Congress has been so opposed to an alliance with the BSP particularly when Mayawati’s demand of number of seats did not match with ground realities. Mayawati has been biting much more than she can chew went the argument.

Possibly, results of the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will bring the BSP empress to ground opening her eyes to hard political realities thus paving the way for an alliance in crucial Hindi speaking states for the general elections

Conscious and alert to changing political landscape, Mayawati has taken a calculated risk to test waters in the three Hindi-speaking states in next two months so that she can negotiate a better deal for herself for the general elections.

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Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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