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Zero Seats in Lok Sabha, 19 in UP Assembly: Can Mayawati Resurrect BSP in 2019 Battle?

Contrary to popular perception, the party has been on a decline even in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, from a high of 206 seats in 2007 to just 19 seats in the 2017 elections — a drop of almost 90%.

Fazil Khan | News18.com

Updated:June 29, 2019, 6:16 PM IST
Zero Seats in Lok Sabha, 19 in UP Assembly: Can Mayawati Resurrect BSP in 2019 Battle?
News18 Illustration by Mir Suhail.

New Delhi: The 2014 general election was not good hunting for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). It failed to win a single seat in the Lok Sabha, down from a record high of 21 seats the party had won in 2009. This drubbing came despite the party having the third highest vote share across the country (4.2%).

Contrary to popular perception, the party has been on a decline even in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, from a high of 206 seats in 2007 to just 19 seats in the 2017 elections — a drop of almost 90%.

In 2014, it was the BJP which swept the state, winning 71 out of 80 seats in the Lok Sabha. Three years later, the saffron party won 312 Assembly seats.

A 2014 Lokniti-CSDS study examined this surge in BJP’s seat count in the state. It revealed that the BJP gained substantial votes from all caste groups — over 70% of Brahmins and other upper castes, 60% of the OBCs, 53% of the Kurmis and 45% of the other Dalits, cutting into the vote share of all other parties.

A 2018 study by Sudha Pai and Avinash Kumar, professors at JNU, further explained this ‘saffron wave’. “It (BJP) penetrated deep into the backward and Dalit base of the SP and the BSP, and created a broad Hindu vote-bank encompassing the upper castes, the backwards, and also the Dalits,” it said.

As the BJP consolidated the Hindu vote and registered wins state after state in 2017, the BSP, like most other parties, was left reeling in the aftermath. Even though the party held on to most of its collective vote share unlike the Congress, it was spread thin over a large number of constituencies which didn’t convert into seats.

But was the ‘saffron wave’ the only reason for the dent in BSP’s vote-bank?

The Lok Sabha Whitewash

The BSP contested in parliamentary elections for the first time in 1989, fielding candidates in 245 constituencies. It managed to win three of these, fetching a vote share of 2.1%. This was also the first time that a 33-year-old Mayawati entered the Lok Sabha from Bijnor.

The party expanded over the years, contesting as many as 500 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 and gathering 6.2% of votes, its best performance ever. It went on to contest more number of seats in 2014 (503), but ended up with no seats in its kitty.

A major reason for this could have been a sharp fall in BSP’s share of votes among the Scheduled Castes and a consolidation of the Hindu vote by the BJP, a large chunk of which comprised Dalit votes. According to a post-poll survey by CSDS in 2014, the BSP, on an average, lost nearly 20% of its Jatav (SC, traditional BSP voters) votes in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. Jatav votes for the party fell from 26% to 13% in MP, from 11% to 6% in Rajasthan, 62% to 21% in Haryana, 40% to 16% in Delhi, and from 85% to 69% in UP.

The BJP, on the other hand, saw a spike of nearly 18 percentage points across the same states and in the same caste group in 2014. The setback was such that the party was on the verge of losing its ‘national party’ status, only to be relieved by an amendment (with retrospective effect) in ‘The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968’ by the Election Commission. The amendment says that performance over two consecutive general or Assembly elections, rather than one, would be the measure to determine their status.

Fadeout in Assembly

Other than the Lok Sabha, the party has witnessed a sharp fall in the number of seats it won in the Assembly too, along with a steady decline in vote share since its thumping victory in 2007. The party had garnered 30.4% of the votes in 2007, which came down to 25.9% (80 seats) in 2012 and 22.4% in 2017.

In early 1990s, Kanshi Ram, the founder of the BSP, was able to create a social coalition comprising Kurmis (in some parts of the state, especially Bundelkhand and Mirzapur), and Muslim Backwards by bringing together communities like Nunia Chouhans, Rajbhars, etc.

Mayawati, who succeeded Kanshi Ram, further expanded this coalition by reaching out to a section of the upper castes and Muslims, thus creating the necessary support to emerge with a clear majority in 2007.

But, in 2017, Mayawati failed to repeat this formula.

Beyond the Home Turf

Even though the BSP has not fared well in the last few elections in UP, it is probably the only state where the party has a significant footprint. Apart from winning the Rewa Lok Sabha constituency in MP in 2009, the last time the party won a parliamentary seat outside of UP was way back in 1998 when it bagged the Ambala constituency in Haryana. This is despite the fact that it contested 225 seats in 1999, 435 seats in 2004, 500 seats in 2009 and 503 seats in 2014.

In fact, the party did have a presence in states like Punjab and Haryana in its early years because its founder Kanshi Ram hailed from Punjab. Of the three seats that the party secured in 1989 and 1991, one came from Punjab on both occasions. In 1996, Punjab contributed three of the 11 seats that BSP won during the Lok Sabha polls. While two seats came from MP, it won the rest in UP. However, since then, the party’s national footprint has shrunk over the years.

Badri Narayan Tiwari, professor of social history and cultural anthropology, sees the variation in Dalit demographics across states as the primary reason for this change.

“The internal dynamics of various states are different. In UP, Chamars and Jatavs, who are the core vote base of the BSP, are more than half of the entire Dalit population. Both of these groups are the major Dalit groups, whereas other minor groups are fewer in number,” Tiwari said about BSP’s success being just limited to UP.

In case of other states like Punjab and Haryana, where SCs form at least one-third and one-fifth of the population, respectively, Tiwari explained, “...because there are other Dalit groups in these states that may not vote for BSP, they tend to cancel out BSP’s core votes that is the Chamars.”

“For example, if roughly 18% are Chamars in Punjab, then 17% are Bhangi. Similarly, in Bihar, Chamar is a smaller group among Dalit population, so one cause could be demographic location of Chamars and Jatavs.”

Moreover, in other states, Jatavs and Chamars are not in very large numbers as they are in UP. For instance, in Bihar, Paswan or Pasis have a substantial population among Dalits.

Tiwari’s assessment is validated when we compare the percentage of votes the party received from SCs other than its core vote base. While the BSP got 26% of the Jatav votes in MP in 2009, only 5% of ‘Other SCs’ voted for it. Similarly, in Haryana, the party collected 62% of the Jatav votes, but only 16% of the remaining Dalits went in its favour in 2009. The trend remained the same in 2014 as well.

According to Census 2011, SCs, who constitute the Dalits too, form nearly 32% of the total population in Punjab, 20% in Haryana, 18% in Rajasthan, 25% in Himachal Pradesh, and roughly 16% in Bihar. However, despite such proportion of Dalits in these states, the BSP’s inability to make serious inroads in these states signifies that it may have failed to strike social and political coalitions to reap political dividends.

Abysmal Strike Rate

Despite its consistent poor performances in states other than UP and its neighbouring states, the BSP continues to field its candidates in both different Assembly and parliamentary elections. This has often resulted in forfeiture of deposits of its candidates. A candidate loses his/her security deposit if he/she fails to secure more than one-sixth of the votes polled in that particular constituency.

Apart from UP, BSP candidates have a deposit forfeiture rate of more than 90% in 14 of the 20 states analysed.

Surprisingly, the party has been contesting on almost all the available seats in these states barring a few exceptions in its early years. In Delhi, the party fielded candidates on all the 70 Assembly seats in 2008 and 2015, and on 69 seats in 2013. In Chhattisgarh, it contested on 35 Assembly seats last year, but had fielded candidates on all the 90 seats in 2013 and 2008. Similarly, in Haryana, it contested 87 of the 90 Assembly seats in 2014. It had fought on 86 and 84 seats in Haryana in 2009 and 2004, respectively.

The BSP has never won an Assembly seat in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra. During the last three elections in all these states, it contested on 49%, 71%, 73%, 86%, 72% and 96% of the total seats, respectively. The party also has had an average vote share of less than two percent in these six states since 2000, except Maharashtra where it collected nearly 3% of votes.

Sanjay Kumar, director of CSDS, explained this phenomenon. He said that a candidate needs to win at least one-fourth of the votes polled to have a chance at winning the seat. This, according to Kumar, is what the BSP has not been able to do. “You need roughly about 24-25% of votes to convert them into seats. So, in all other states what is happening is that the BSP is far below that threshold of 24-25%,” Kumar explained. On why BSP continues to field candidates even after so many failures, Kumar said, “...if they stop contesting, their vote share will go down and they may not pass the criteria of being a national party.”

According to the Election Commission, one of the criteria to qualify as a national party is for its candidates to collect not less than 6% of the total valid votes during general and Assembly elections. Also, the party has to field candidates in at least four or more states and win minimum of 6% vote share in each state. Therefore, irrespective of achieving a scattered vote share of more than 6% in each state — this necessarily does not have to convert in any seat — the BSP would stay afloat as a national party.

The Reserved Seat Conundrum

For a party that claims to represent the SCs, predominantly the Dalits, the BSP has not been a very bright performer in reserved parliamentary constituencies. Not even in UP, where out of the total 80 seats in the state, 17 seats are reserved for the SCs, the highest in the country. While the BSP had won five of these seats in 2004, it could only manage to win just one SC seat in 2009.

This was irrespective of the fact that during 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the party reached its record high of 21 seats. To put things into perspective, if we take these 17 seats going to polls eight times between 1989 and 2014 (during eight Lok Sabha elections), we get 136 reserved seats up for grabs. In all these years, the BSP only won 16 seats out of all the combined 136 reserved seats.

The BJP, on the other hand, won all the reserved seats in the state in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Overall, these 17 SC seats multiplied eight times, the BJP has won a staggering 65 of the resultant 136 reserved seats that were on offer during these elections. In fact, even the SP has been able to win almost double (29) the seats won by the BSP among the reserved seats during the last eight Lok Sabha polls in the state.

Tiwari explains this conundrum. He believes that Dalit votes often get divided on reserved seats because all the candidates in the fray are Dalits and whoever receives upper caste and OBC votes wins.

Ye jo reserve seat ki chaabi hoti hai who Daliton ke haath mein nahi hoti hai, woh non-Dalits ke haath mein hoti hai. (Non-Dalits, not Dalits, hold the key to reserved seats),” Tiwari said, explaining the voting behaviour in SC seats.

It should be noted that the seat that should be reserved and the number of reserved seats a state gets has varied over the years as and when delimitation of constituencies happened. The state had 18 reserved seats till 2004, which was then revised to 17 from 2009.

Keeping in view the BJP’s sweep in 2017, in which the saffron party swept all these 17 seats, the BSP will be contesting on 10 of these reserved seats, while SP will field candidates on the rest.

Now, with the Lok Sabha elections just a month away, can the BSP change its fortunes, given that its alliance with SP is being touted as the game-changer in Uttar Pradesh politics?

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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