The article was originally published in DailyO.
The Bihar verdict has gone against the BJP and the Nitish-Lalu jodi has managed to stop the BJP’s stellar march that started in May 2014. The Bihar elections were touted as semi-final number one. Semi-final number two is slated to happen in 2017 when Uttar Pradesh goes to polls. This would lead to the grand finale in 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a second term. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh together send 120 members to Parliament and the BJP won 93 of these seats alone and its partners another 11 seats in the 2014 general election. This propelled the BJP to get a simple majority on its own, the first party to do so after the Congress achieved this feat in 1984.
Buoyed by the Mahagathbandhan’s drubbing of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, current Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh has expressed a desire to have a similar anti-NDA alliance in the state with Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Mayawati. She has not responded but her party has outrightly rejected the proposal. The memory of the attack on Mayawati allegedly by SP men in 1995 when she pulled the plug on the SP government is the most stumbling block to this alliance.
Mayawati has been lying low for quite some time now following her party’s loss in the state elections in 2012 and failure to open its account in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The party has in the past tied up with the SP and BJP to form the government and with Congress/SP to fight polls in the state in 1993 and 1996 respectively.
Source: Politicalbaaba (PB) research based on CSDS data.
The SP swept the state elections in 2012 bagging 231 out of 422 seats defeating Mayawati’s BSP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the NDA swept the state winning 73/80 seats. The SP has lost popularity since then due to a deteriorating law and order situation. The NDA is also not at its peak with the Modi factor seen waning a bit in the Assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar. This makes the four-cornered contest in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 very interesting.
While the SP has openly sent signals, I bet the Congress and even the BJP will make overtures to the BSP in the coming days to form an alliance.
Let’s see what makes Mayawati “hot property” in Uttar Pradesh.
1. She commands a strong vote share
The BSP has gradually and steadily increased its influence in the state starting with a benign vote share of 9.4 per cent in the 1989 state elections to a peak of 30.4 per cent in 2007 when it acquired a simple majority on its own. It managed to form a social combination of upper castes, Muslims and Dalits and bagged 206 out of 403 seats in 2007.
Since then its vote share has steadily declined to as low as 19.8 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This was similar to its vote share in the 1996 state polls when it began to emerge as a potent force. I feel its vote share has bottomed out and it will bounce back from here. In the 2014 general election, Mayawati managed to get a respectable 20 per cent vote share despite a strong Modi wave and heavy consolidation of Hindu votes. In fact, the BSP lost 16 per cent of Jatav and 35 per cent of non-Jatav Dalit votes compared to 2009 and the BJP got them virtually en bloc in an election were national issues got priority over local issues.
In fact, many believe Mayawati, in order to puncture Mulayam’s prime ministerial ambitions, covertly ensured the transfer of Dalit votes to the BJP, especially in constituencies where it was in direct fight with the SP. This has also been mentioned in the CSDS post-poll report on the Uttar Pradesh elections.
VS – Vidhan Sabha, LS – Lok Sabha.
2. She holds the keys to Dalit votebank and has a decent Muslim support base
Dalits account for 21 per cent of the population of Uttar Pradesh. The traditional supporters of the Congress, this vote bank shifted to Kanshi Ram’s BSP in the late 1980s and has stayed with it. Jatavs account for 56 per cent of the Dalit population (12 per cent of the total state population) and Mayawati belongs to this sub-caste. The majority of Jatavs (over 60 per cent) supported Mayawati even in the 2012 state polls when the SP swept the polls, and in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when the BJP swept the state. The non-Jatav Dalit support deteriorated significantly in the Lok Sabha election to 29 per cent from 50 per cent in 2012.
Crimes against Dalits are on the rise in Uttar Pradesh under Akhilesh Yadav’s rule and Dalits may come back to the BSP’s rescue in 2017 (Incidents against Dalits recorded under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act has increased from 1,752 in 2012 to 1,860 in 2014).
The party also has a loyal Muslim support base (17 per cent-20 per cent) which was maintained in 2012 despite a sweep by the SP and even in the last two general elections. In a highly polarised election, SP recorded a 28 per cent increase in Muslim votes in 2014. However, Mayawati is capable of making a dent into this vote bank as well if she emerges as a frontrunner to defeat the BJP (in case she doesn’t end up having an alliance with the party).
VS – Vidhan Sabha, LS – Lok Sabha
3. She has a proven track record of being able to transfer votes to alliance partners
A dedicated vote bank of Dalits and Muslims ensures that Mayawati is capable of transferring votes seamlessly to its alliance partner. In 1996, the Congress fought state elections in alliance with the BSP. The BSP was able to transfer votes from its support base to the Congress. The Congress’ vote share on seats contested nearly doubled from 15.1 per cent in 1993 to 29.1 per cent in 1996. The BSP’s vote share on seats contested actually declined from 28.7 per cent in 1993 to 27.7 per cent in 1996. So from the looks of it, the BSP didn’t gain much. This will be one of the important factors in determining whom Mayawati sides with, if at all.
4. She has a strong presence across all regions of the state
The BSP is the only party after the BJP to have a strong support across the state (as evidenced in 2014 Lok Sabha election). This is also one of the reasons for it not being able to win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election(decent presence in 80 seats but not significant enough to win a single seat). This makes the BSP a cadre-based party like the current BJP and the old Congress.
The difference between the low and high range of vote shares across seven regions according to the CSDS is the lowest, at four per cent for the BSP (17 per cent-21 per cent), while it is over 12 per cent for other parties. The SP received its highest support in Rohilkhand (31.4 per cent) and the lowest in Avadh (15.9 per cent). The case with the Congress is just the opposite of the SP – highest in Avadh and lowest in Rohilkhand. The BJP received its highest support in western Uttar Pradesh (50.2 per cent) and lowest in (37.6 per cent). The BSP’s support was consistent across regions with highest support in eastern Uttar Pradesh (21.7 per cent) and lowest in Rohilkhand (17.7 per cent).
The SP received a vote share of 22.3 per cent in the last Lok Sabha elections. It won the five family stronghold seats of Mulayam. The SP won all these seats by big margins. While on each of these five seats, the SP got 4.9 lakh votes, in other seats it got an average of 2.1 lakh votes. So the SP’s vote share was positively impacted by votes recorded in these five seats. Excluding these seats, the SP’s vote share would be similar to the BSP’s range of 19.8 per cent.
5. She also enjoys support of the poor class
Apart from the Dalits, who form Mayawati’s hardcore support base, the BSP leader is the preferred choice also of the poor class (people below poverty line accounting for 30 per cent of the population). Though her support has declined over the past four elections from 41 per cent to 32 per cent, she has maintained her lead even in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls despite a strong Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh where the BJP was supported by 31 per cent of the poor class.
We have seen the strengths of Mayawati. Now let’s see why everybody wants an alliance with her party:
Why Mulayam needs Mayawati
Mulayam received a drubbing in the Lok Sabha election winning only five seats. In a polarised atmosphere, it failed to keep intact its Hindu vote bank of Yadavs (-20 per cent) and other OBCs (-12 per cent) which drifted to the BJP.
As mentioned by a recent Yale study, polarisation helps the BJP. This was also evident in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh when the BJP managed to polarise Hindu votes after the Muzaffarnagar riots. The anti-incumbency against Akhilesh is building up and he needs the Dalit support of Mayawati to stay in contention. The SP and BSP together have a combined vote share of 42.1 per cent and match BJP’s vote share of 42.6 per cent attained in the 2014 general election.
Why BJP needs Mayawati
The BJP has lost vote share in all the state elections which have taken place after Lok Sabha polls except for Maharashtra. The BJP, on an average, has lost 16.7 per cent vote share across six states. In the Delhi polls, its vote share was 69.3 per cent of the vote share its had in the Lok Sabha polls in the capital. Similarly, it was 83.6 per cent in the recently concluded Bihar elections. As state elections are fought on local issues, this sort of loss of vote share is normal.
The BJP fears a repeat of Bihar in Uttar Pradesh primarily because it has no tall leader in the state to match the might of Mulayam and Mayawati. Modi’s charm may further fade as elections are more than one year away. With Mayawati in the kitty, the BJP can breathe easily.
Why Congress needs Mayawati
Congress’ position in the Hindi heartland has deteriorated since the past 2.5 decades. It has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It has come back now to power in Bihar riding on the popularity of Nitish and Lalu. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is very weak and was able to win only two seats in Lok Sabha (Gandhi family bastions) and that too when the SP didn’t put up candidates. Bihar is an indication of section of upper caste votes coming back to the BJP and Congress could see this as an opportunity to make a comeback in Uttar Pradesh. The Dalit vote bank of Mayawati perfectly complements the upper caste/Muslim vote bank of the Congress. Along with the BSP’s 19.8 per cent, this combine can have a formidable 27.3 per cent vote share if we take the results of Lok Sabha election 2014 into account.
So with Maywati in high demand, who will be able to finally woo her? One thing is for sure: Nobody can win Uttar Pradesh without Mayawati. Reading too much into the Lok Sabha election performance where Mayawati got zero seats is not appropriate. Stay tuned for more on this…