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Will Solo 2024 Contest Help or Hurt BSP?

There’s been talk about BSP’s existential crisis for a while, and data shows it is serious.

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI

The General Election is scheduled for the first half of 2024 and political parties cautious of their actions and playing their cards strategically. On the one hand, several opposition parties are coming together not only to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party from securing a third consecutive term but to protect their political existence. Amidst this, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has announced its decision to contest General Election 2024 on its own.

The BSP supremo Mayawati has said there is “no question” of joining either the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP, nor the newly-made coalition of 26 political parties, INDIA, in which the Congress party has the largest nationwide vote-share.

On 30 August, Mayawati posted on X (earlier Twitter), “The NDA and INDIA Alliance comprise mostly anti-poor, casteist, communal, and pro-rich parties.” The series of tweets make it apparent that the party has set its mind against the idea of joining an alliance.

The track record of the BSP in general elections and recent Assembly elections held in Uttar Pradesh raises some doubts and questions about the party’s announcement—if it goes into the 2024 election with this strategy, will it favour the party, or hurt it? It is a question many are asking of late, considering the BSP has seen a drastic drop in its ability to convert its vote-share into seats won. Last year, the BJP even invited the charge, rather uncharitably, that it is now a vote-cutter, not a seat-winner.

Lok Sabha Experience

In the 2019 General Election, the BSP won 10 seats out of the 38 it contested in Uttar Pradesh as part of an alliance. It also got a vote share of 3.66% nationally, and higher than 19% in Uttar Pradesh.

It was nearly a decade earlier, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, that Mayawati’s party was able to secure 21 seats on a vote share of 6.2% nationally—its highest in seats and vote share in its history. It secured 27.4% of the votes in Uttar Pradesh.

But the BSP was reduced to zero seats in the 2014 election, albeit with a 4.14% vote share across the country, higher than in the 2014 General Election. It got nearly 20% of votes in Uttar Pradesh.

Data suggests that the BSP has not been able to translate its vote share into seats most of the time. Put differently, the core voters of the BSP, the Jatavs of Uttar Pradesh, cannot secure majorities in the Assembly or Lok Sabha elections on their own. They need other social classes to join hands with them, be it the Most Backward Classes, or the elite classes and castes, and the Muslim voters, to mark electorally significant victories.

Indeed, the BSP chief has held the chief minister’s post in Uttar Pradesh four times. And in 2007, her party could form a government with a full majority, making Mayawati the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who completed a full five-year term. However, at each point in time, Mayawati rose to power with the support of either the Samajwadi Party (and others) or the BJP.

The peak performance of the BSP in an Assembly election was in 2007 when it won 206 seats and an impressive 30.43% vote share.


Lok Sabha Experience of BSP

After forming the government in 2007 in Uttar Pradesh, the BSP also won 21 seats in the 2009 General Election, which again remains its best performance since its formation.

But between elections in 2007 and 2022, the BSP has lost more than 99% of the seats it obtained. Currently, Mayawati has only one member in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. In the Assembly election of 2017, the BSP won 19 seats, experiencing a loss of 76% of seats, from 80 in the 2012 election.

bsp report


The latest announcement that the BSP will not join either national grouping for the 2024 election comes around a month after Mayawati claimed that her party “does not get transferred votes”.

A BSP press note released on 19 July 2023 quotes her as saying that the party “had to bear more loss than gain by getting into alliances in Uttar Pradesh”.

She is referring to the BSP’s capacity to transfer the votes of Dalits and the Most Backward Classes to any other party on Mayawati’s command. After the 2019 Lok Sabha election, which the BSP, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal contested as part of an alliance and lost, Mayawati had blamed the other parties’ inability to transfer votes to the BJP.

Self-Isolating Dalits

Labeling the move as an attempt at Dalit exclusion, chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit and Adivasi Organisations, Ashok Bharti, says that BSP politics has forced the Dalits into self-exclusion. “If we do not look for partnerships, it is indeed an exclusion of Dalits by Dalits for Dalits,” he said.

Putting his views on Mayawati’s decision, Bharti said, “If Mayawati continues to stand where she stands she will be losing the historic opportunity that once Babu Jagjivan Ram had used. She will be responsible for the exclusion of the Dalits from mainstream politics. It may not help the cause of the Dalits.” He felt she should follow what Dr Ambedkar said, that if the interests of India and the Dalits clash, he [Jagjivan Ram] would follow the interests of India.


Alliances Helped BSP

The Modi-led Lok Sabha victory in 2014 reduced numerous national and regional political parties to little more than a symbolic presence. The BSP is one of them.

After the 2014 election, BSP performed better only in the General Election of 2019, rising to 10 seats from zero in 2014. But, contesting alone in Uttar Pradesh in 2022, it won just one seat out of 403 Assembly seats. The writing on the wall is very clear.

The author is a freelance journalist. The views are personal.

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