Lok Sabha Elections 2024: From ‘Bahujan’ to ‘Sarvajan’ — Will This Shift Help BSP Remain Prominent Political Player in UP?

The BSP had courted Brahmins with the slogan “Brahmin shankh bajayega, haathi badhta jaayega” in the run-up to the 2007 Assembly election and secured a resounding majority in the state — winning 206 out of 403 Assembly seats and securing a vote share of 36.7 percent.
The BSP flag (representational image)
The BSP flag (representational image)Credit: Deccan Herald

Azamgarh/Ambedkar Nagar/Sant Kabir Nagar (Uttar Pradesh): In an unusual development, the sale of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar's idol witnessed an unexpected rise in Azamgarh in this election season. The sale generally spikes once in a year on April 14, the birth anniversary of the chairman of India’s Constitution drafting committee.

And surprisingly, it’s not political leaders or their workers who are busing it. If manufacturers are to be believed, ordinary people from far flung villages throng to the idol manufacturing workers in the dusty town to buy it.

“The presence of Babasaheb's idols in ordinary households indicates that you are in a Dalit settlement. He is not just a political leader for us, he is our pride — an indefatigable defender of human rights,” says Satyam Gautam from Moolchand Gadanpur village at Lalganj in Azamgarh.

This election has seen a return of non-Jatav Dalits to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in various Lok Sabha seats, including Ambedkar Nagar, Kushinagar, Azamgarh, Lalganj and Sant Kabir Nagar. This development is concerning for both the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress INDIA alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Although Akhilesh Yadav proposed the idea of PDA [pichhda (backward classes or OBCs), Dalits and alpsankhyak (minorities)], the SP, which was unpopular among Dalit voters, has been making efforts to woo the politically crucial voting bloc in the state. However, there are no indications that even non-Jatav Dalit voters are becoming more supportive of the Akhilesh-led party.

The BSP, in the meantime, has changed its candidates. Muscleman Dhananjay Singh’s wife Srikala Reddy, who was earlier nominated by the Mayawati-led party as its candidate, was thought to be a formidable opponent in Jaunpur; however, she was replaced with sitting MP, Shyam Singh Yadav.

The same happened in Mainpuri where BSP’s substitution of Shiv Prasad Yadav for Gulshan Shakya may result in the split of Yadav’s votes. The BSP has fielded former MP Bal Krishna Chouhan from Mau district, turning the election into a triangular battle that is likely to benefit NDA ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP).

Shubh Narayan Chauhan, a BSP cadre and former Army personnel, is running in Kushinagar district.

Though BSP supporters are seemingly confused by these decisions, they still apparently want to support Mayawati. She removed her nephew Akash Anand, who was leading a passionate campaign, as the BSP’s national coordinator and changed the party's viable candidates in certain constituencies, like Jaunpur.

Gautam declares, “We shall only vote for the haathi (elephant — BSP’s election symbol) whether the BSP wins or loses.”

In the 2019 elections, he had voted for the SP candidate because the SP and the BSP were contesting the polls in an alliance.

Ramashray Yadav, an ardent supporter of the SP, believes that the BSP contesting from Lalganj has made the contest triangular but asserts that it would only impact the BJP.

However, Saroj Kumar, a Dalit research scholar from Sant Kabir Nagar, is frustrated by the BSP’s decision to field candidates belonging to the caste of “oppressors”. “Our fight is against the Brahmins and Thakurs who have traditionally oppressed us. When Kanshi Ram established the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) in 1981, his slogan was ‘Brahmin, Thakur, Baniya chor, baaki sab hain DS4 (Except Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas, all others are DS4)’,” he says.

His predicament coincides with the BSP’s expansion as a party and the softening of its hard anti-upper caste stance.

In the run-up to the 2007 Assembly election, the BSP courted Brahmins with the slogan “Brahmin shankh bajayega, haathi badhta jaayega (As the Brahmin blows the conch, the elephant will march on)”. This was the only election in which the BSP secured a resounding majority to form a government in the state, winning 206 out of 403 Assembly seats and securing a vote share of 36.7 percent.

Following the BSP’s defeat in 2012, Mayawati attempted to recast the narrative; and by 2015, she substituted “sarvajan” (everyone) for its “bahujan” (the majority) pitch. But in 2017, the BJP emerged from oblivion and utterly destroyed the SP and the BSP.

Only on June 4 will it be known if the BSP can stop the steady drop in its vote percentage that has resulted in losses in Assembly elections in 2012, 2017 and 2022 as well as Lok Sabha elections since 2009.

BSP’s Qamar Hayat Ansari, former chairman of Nagar Palika, is taking on two former BSP leaders, who are running on BJP and SP tickets in Ambedkar Nagar. The BJP’s candidate is BSP MP Ritesh Pandey, who previously won the seat in 2009 and 2019. Former Katehari MLA Lalji Verma is the SP candidate, who until three years ago was a member of the BSP.

Mohammed Alam has been fielded by the BSP from nearby Sant Kabir Nagar. Despite the fact that the BSP has fielded 20 Muslims in Uttar Pradesh in the ongoing general election, the community does not seem to be attracted to the Mayawati’s party in the wake of the SP-Congress’s persistent efforts to win them over.

The BSP had fielded 99 Muslim candidates in the 2017 Assembly elections and 88 in the 2022 elections. In fact, the party has been unsuccessful in its attempts to win over Muslims since Kanshi Ram’s time. Mayawati’s recent strategy of switching candidates to harm the SP’s prospects has only weakened the confidence of minority voters in her party.

The BSP undoubtedly holds control over its core voter, but more is required if the party is to be considered a serious political force in Uttar Pradesh. The Dalit party was formed in 1984, precisely 40 years ago. This crucial election will determine whether it remains a prominent player in the political history of India’s most populous state, or if it fades into obscurity.

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