UP Election 2017: BSP’s ‘silent vote’ is a coalition of efforts from unexpected quarters

Leading up to the penultimate phase of polling in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) election, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief, Mayawati’s speeches have turned more confident, scathing and at times condescending towards her opponents. From taunting the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, his son Akhilesh and the extended family members including Mulayam’s younger brother Shivpal Yadav for their family feud, she has gone on to term prime minister Narendra Modi a “liar” and called the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a 'Bharatiya Jumla (sweet-talk) Party' with no substantial ground work to back the claims of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While she is reserved in her verbal attacks, in contrast to the shamelessness many leaders from other parties have shown during the campaigning, her body language exudes a quiet triumphalism. “She is smiling more and speaking impromptu at times. That is a good sign,” says Parag Saini, a BSP worker from Chandauli who was at a rally she addressed recently. Workers from the party cadre claim this is a sign that victory can be achieved in these elections and that most of the work might have been done already.

“Voters have spoken, but silently,” says Basant Saini, a lawyer based in Amroha in western UP, who is also a member of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (Bamcef), the parent body of the BSP which was founded in 1978 by Kanshi Ram, much before a political plan for the ‘Bahujan Samaj’ was even devised.

Political pundits across the media have also been talking of the 'silent vote' that Mayawati will be getting, but hardly any seem to allude to the possibility that substantial gains have been made by the party. With the BJP squirming ahead of the last two phases and resorting to last-ditch attempts through usual communal jibing, and with Modi claiming victory despite all practical predictions and terming the last phases the ‘bonus’ that the electorate will give his party, BSP is claiming victory. While the BJP is set to make most of its gains in these very phases, eastern UP being its traditional strong base, BSP workers are confident of their own gains, most of which they say have already been achieved.

Is baar paschimi hawa chali hai (this time the wind rages from the west),” says Basant Saini, referring to the fact that the assembly elections in 2012 began in eastern UP where SP made huge gains last time around, and swept the state subsequently. This time, with west UP beginning first and BSP expected to win substantially in the region, he says the trend will hold through till March 8.

File image of Mayawati. PTI

File image of Mayawati. PTI

The BSP’s gains, if at all made, have been through smart strategies and consolidation of communities that have been at the receiving end of the SP rule over the past five years. The Gujjars have led the way in western UP, especially in the districts adjoining Delhi and Haryana, where they outnumber both Thakurs and Yadavs. While they have hardly found representation in SP earlier, the BJP has gone for Thakur candidates predominantly, with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh, considered a rookie, being fielded from Noida to ensure him a safe victory. Gujjars have sided with the BSP as a result. It has been a similar story across the state, with communities like Kurmis and even Brahmins supporting the BSP openly.

These gains are not the result of the BSP cadre’s efforts alone. Bamcef has quietly thrown its weight behind the party, ensuring a serious political tilt across the social spectra. Members had not supported Mayawati in 2012 due to a ‘failure in policies’ and had openly favoured Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but have been rooting for the BSP for more than a year now. With over one lakh members in its National General Body, most of whom are from UP, and many more in state and district level units, Bamcef’s capabilities as a ground-level organizer can be matched up only by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the BJP. The difference between the two organizations, however, lies in Bamcef’s largely multi-religious, multi-caste and mostly secular balance while the latter is a religious organization with caste and religious biases clogging its veins.

With the Bamcef standing up for Mayawati, the exchange of ideas gets a boost, most importantly in the hinterland. Mohammad Mustaqim, an electrical engineer with the state electricity department in Shahjahanpur who is also a member of the Bamcef, says, “I travel to at least 25-30 villages in my district every week and members from both the Dalit and Muslim communities as well as from other communities come up asking what Behenji will be doing this time around. I quietly tell them that she is the only sane choice and whatever can be done will be done only by her and nobody else. We should all give her the chance to set things right.” Mustaqim’s phone constantly rings during the evenings nowadays, and at times he “can’t even recognize people (through voices) yet keep(s) talking till they are convinced and disconnect”.

The most important contributors to the gains made by the BSP through Bamcef, however, are the lawyers, judicial officers and even helpers posted at the various district courts across the state. With caste-consciousness and biases, both perceived and real, playing an important part in everyday life in the towns and cities, most people tend to approach lawyers who come from their communities or from communities they do not see as a threat to themselves. “More than anything else, this binds us all together. We understand the turbulences that this society brings us and connect through that,” says Atif Saifi, a judicial officer based in Meerut who says most of his clients are either Muslims or from the Dalit communities. These interactions, Saifi says, also help organize people into a broad thought process on deciding the best leader to vote for in the elections. Personal discussions ensure a dilemma is placed in the minds of the voters and they do not get swayed by appeasements from local leaders, rather swaying away from it at crunch moments, suspicion of their intents playing a crucial role when they go out to cast their votes.

This is the secret to the ‘silent vote’ that goes to the BSP, many say. Arvind Kumar (name changed), who is a close relative of Mayawati but has formed his own small party after getting a snub from the BSP higher-ups, says, “Bamcef does not work for Mayawati, it works for the Bahujan Samaj and decides keeping in mind what is the best for the communities at the receiving end of the caste and class bias in our society. This time the BSP is the best option. I too am relying on Bamcef support and contesting only from the seats where the BSP seems weak so as to only dent into opposition voter bases.” The silent vote, he says, is the result of the call to consciousness of the poor and marginalised as well as the socially aware communities which leads to a coming together of seemingly incompatible and unimaginably distant castes and classes.

One such coup was achieved by the BSP when the Brahman Mahasabha decided to openly support the party in the state ahead of the assembly elections, declaring that it was under Mayawati during her previous rule that the community got the most representation and most respect. The BSP gave tickets to 86 Brahmin candidates in 2007, which fell to 72 in 2012 and has fallen to 66 this time around. The deal was brokered by Satish Chandra Mishra, Mayawati’s legal counsel and considered her closest aide. He too used the links through the legal fraternity and court employees to approach the Brahmin leaders, insiders say.

“There is good coordination between Bamcef members and people from the Brahmin communities who work in various government departments (state or Central). We approached a lot of people through those channels and it helped us. It must also be seen that Brahmins, despite being ahead in academics and government jobs, lack political representation. Mutual respect delivers favours to both negotiators, and it has done so for us,” a senior BSP leader claimed on the condition of anonymity. Brahmins constitute around 10 percent of the total voter base in the state, and the BSP is banking on this, which the Brahman Mahasabha claims to represent in a big way.

The Muslim voter base is also divided and is expected to be the biggest gamble for the BSP since it is traditionally considered a SP stronghold. While the BSP has consistently garnered a good chunk of the votes from among the Muslims, especially those from the backward castes, this time around it is expecting an en masse vote in its favour barring the upper caste Muslims who have found safe refuge with the SP over the past two decades. “Firstly, there is no space for Shias in SP since it is dominated by Sunnis. They would not even let us close. Secondly, the fiefdoms of leaders like Azam Khan suck away the benefits that should trickle down to the poor from the community. At least equal treatment can be expected, as the track record shows, from Behenji,” says Atif Saifi.

The BSP cadres, on the other hand, have gained confidence of the people since the schemes announced by the party are ‘village-centric’ and also focus on maintenance of law and order. The SP rule brings with it a backlash from the OBCs who are either in direct confrontation with the Dalit communities owing to local farming-level rivalries or simply because they own more land and hire Dalits to work on them. Either ways their dislike of the rise in the Dalits’ social and financial status fuels violence that is only withheld, not curtailed, over a long period under the SP. The promise of efficient policing and maintenance of law and order, even if uptight, gives the Dalit communities a sense of security which results in a strong favourable vote-fest for the BSP on polling day.
And the turnouts have been good till now, BSP workers say. “We have received quiet confirmations from almost all regions till now that we have gained considerably; the people are with us. This will continue in the next phases too, hopefully. BJP’s desperation shows they are losing and Behenji’s confidence shows we are going to win. Whether or not we come to power, a strong BSP will benefit all,” says Parag Saini.


Published Date: Mar 03, 2017 03:13 pm | Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 07:20 pm


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