The BSP faces a situation in which it either emerges stronger nationally or loses significance beyond Uttar Pradesh
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) finds itself at a unique juncture that is important for the party and for democratic and contemporary politics. As a party, it has faced trials in the form of desertions, factionalism and turmoil. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BSP could not win even a single seat in its stronghold, Uttar Pradesh. Since then, it continues to face many pressures.
Right wing influences
Hindutva politics has begun to influence its base of voters. Dalit youth leaders, tapping into a new aggressive language being used against the dominant social groups, are emerging as a challenge to the party and its leader Mayawati ( picture ) by trying to mobilise the Scheduled Castes (SCs). These younger leaders have emerged through social movements that have sprung up in reaction to atrocities against SCs. In its initial years, the BSP had used this kind of aggressive language. In a way, the use of language as a strong mobilisational tool for oppressed communities is a reminder of a similar instance in Maharashtra in the 1970s with the Dalit Panthers. All these factors have led to the BSP facing a situation wherein it could emerge stronger or shrink further and lose its position as a political party of significance. Data show that the party’s social base has shrunk to almost the level from which it began. Though the BSP remains a party of significance in terms of the vote share it recorded in the 2014 parliamentary elections and the U.P. Assembly elections in 2017 (around 22%), it has failed to maintain its strong position. At the national level, an analysis of vote share data for the Lok Sabha polls between 2009 and 2014 shows that the party’s nationwide vote share has declined from over 6% to 4.1%. So it needs a base expansion, which is why the party is trying hard to make a mark again not only in U.P. but also in other States. If it does make a mark in the Assembly elections now, it could become a significant factor in the politics of alliance formation in U.P. for the general election next year. In Madhya Pradesh, the BSP has influence in the Bundelkhand region, parts of Baghelkhand-Rewa, Satana division and the Bhind-Morena areas of the Chambal region. In Chhattisgarh, the BSP and Mr. Jogi’s party seem to be influential in the Bilaspur and Janjgir areas and in places adjoining the Maharashtra border. The combination could also cut into votes in parts of these States where the Dalit-Bahujan communities are substantial in number and politically aware of Ambedkarite and Kanshiram-led Dalit-Bahujan politics. If a mahagathbandhan, with say the Samajwadi Party, fails to emerge in U.P. in time for the general election, it could prove difficult to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Another poor showing in U.P. could result in deeper cracks in the BSP. Dissensions, desertions and inner conflict could become more open, with Ms. Mayawati losing her support base among the Dalit-Bahujan poor and the marginalised. Some could even gravitate towards the BJP and the Congress. So the BSP may be a puzzle for other political parties. One has to wait and watch how the BSP resolves these issues and creates a niche for itself. Badri Narayan is Director, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute (a constituent institute of the Central University of Allahabad), Allahabad