The Bharatiya Janata Party's clean sweep in the Uttar Pradesh civic polls did not exactly come as a surprise. Given the scale of the BJP's campaign, it was expected to make it to the top. However, not many would have predicted a respectable second place finish for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.
Behind the BJP's massive win was a gigantic poll-winning machinery: The largest and strongest army of foot soldiers in form of BJP and RSS cadres, over 300 sitting MLAs were deployed to reach out to voters, and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath criss-crossed the state to campaign for civic elections. This was perhaps the first time ever that the ruling party came out with a full-fledged manifesto for a local body election, and the chief minister himself campaigned on a war footing. Add to it the fact that the BJP has traditionally performed well in civic elections in Uttar Pradesh.
BSP in contrast made little noise. Mayawati, its national president, did not even campaign for the civic poll, and was in Madhya Pradesh when the saffron party was going all out in UP. BSP scored two mayoral seats as against BJP's 14 and finished third in ward-level polls.
|Party||Mayoral seats||Municipal Corporator||Nagar Palika Adhyaksh||Nagar Panchayat Adhyaksh|
The shifting fortunes of the BSP
The BSP and its chief Mayawati have seen extreme highs and lows in politics.
Mayawati still holds the record of being a four-time chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. She was also the first chief minister in decades to complete a five-year term in the state, without the crutches of an alliance government.
In 2012, when she lost to a massive sweep by the Samajwadi Party, she only just managed to retain the position of the main Opposition party in the state Assembly. BSP was limited to 80 of 403 seats as opposed to 206 seats in the previous state elections.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, things went from bad to worse for the BSP as it could not secure even a single seat in the Lower House, and ceded most of its traditional bastions to the BJP. Then came the 2017 Assembly elections, in which BSP had just 19 seats in its account.
After two consecutive and crippling defeats, the party— which had once seen dizzying heights by working the unworkable combination of Dalits + Muslims + OBC voters—was tottering on the brink of dissipation. Its loyal old guards too slowly abandoned ship, chipping off the party's support base further. Experts and political pundits had completely written off the party, some going as far as advising the feisty Dalit leader to quit politics with grace, while she could.
Therefore, it wasn't a surprise when there wasn't much noise around the party's campaign for the civic poll, despite the fact that it was for the first time contesting the local body election on its symbol.
The road to silent recovery
Although the BSP is a far second in mayoral polls, and trails at the third spot in the municipal councils and nagar panchayats, its performance is marked by signs of revival, especially after it slid down to become politically non-existent in the Lok Sabha.
BSP was the only party to have registered a presence in crucial mayoral polls, amid a BJP sweep. According to Amar Ujala, even in ward level polls, BSP candidates were often found defeated in a neck-to-neck competition, at several places where the BJP faced tough competition.
The BSP has managed to unseat BJP in Aligarh and Meerut mayoral polls and it lost to the saffron party in Jhansi with a sleek margin.
Traditionally, Aligarh has been a BJP bastion, which has never lost this seat ever since the system of direct voting was introduced for the mayoral post in 1995. Aligarh city has since the past quarter of a century mostly witnessed direct contests between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, with the third and fouth place going either to the Congress or the BSP.
But this time around, the BSP's Mohammad Furqan defeated BJP's Rajiv Agarwal by a margin of 11,990 votes, becoming the first Muslim to occupy the post since independence.
Not only the party's traditional Dalit vote bank, but Muslims too seem to be returning to the BSP. The party has done reasonably well in areas with its traditional Dalit voter bases—Budelkhand and Western Uttar Pradesh.
In Meerut, where the mayor seat was reserved for an SC woman candidate, BSP’s Sunita Verma defeated BJP candidate Kanta Kardam — the state party vice-president — with a slim margin, according to The Indian Express.
The results will surely infuse new life into the BSP because in the very first instance of contesting civic polls officially, it beat both the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.
Reacting to the party's impressive show, Mayawati exuded confidence that the party's performance would extend on to the results of 2019 Lok Sabha polls. She even challenged the BJP to hold elections through ballot papers, alleging that EVM malfunctions were the reason behind poll route in 2017 Assembly elections.
If BJP is honest & believes in democracy then discard EVMs & conduct voting on Ballot papers. General Elections are due in 2019. If BJP believes people are with them, they must implement it. I can guarantee if Ballot papers are used, BJP won't come to power.: Mayawati, BSP Pres pic.twitter.com/NYveJeuSDb
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) December 2, 2017
However, the road to recovery was paved silently.
Ever since her resignation from the Rajya Sabha, Mayawati was constantly working at the organisational level. She replaced several party office bearers, and in many places old and trusted faces have been re-assigned responsibility to fortify the party at grassroots level.
Unlike Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati refused to campaign for local body elections. "She is a national level leader. She has been instructing party cadre through internal meetings," a party leader close to Mayawati, told The Times of India.
However, her efforts to resurrect the party can be estimated from the fact that even as counting was underway in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati was busy campaigning in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, for the nearing state Assembly polls.
Concentrating on regaining strength at the ground level, Mayawati asked her party leaders to counter the narrative that the BSP has lost control over urban areas and is confined only to certain rural pockets.
“We need to show that we are very much present on the ground. This can be proved if we contest municipal polls on the party symbol. This will also give us an opportunity to make a self-assessment about our strengths,” she was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying.
She has also decided to rule the party with an iron fist.
When the decision to fight polls on the national symbol was taken, the BSP national president made it clear that any party members entering the fray as Independents will be expelled. She had, for the first time, formed city-level committees to organise poll campaigns and reach out to its voters.
Reports suggest that Mayawati is also open for an alliance in the upcoming election, but not at the cost of her party's original votebank. She believed that alliances have always harmed her party, and therefore she would not rush into any such arrangements but first concentrate on improving her party's prospects in her own backyard.
"Our party is in favour of fighting the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in alliance with any secular party, but only when it gets a respectable number of seats in seat sharing or else it would go alone," Mayawati said, as quoted by PTI.
Referring to recent efforts at seat sharing, she said that the Congress did not approve sharing 25 seats in Gujarat and 10 in Himachal Pradesh, all of which it had lost in the previous polls.
Meanwhile, the decision to fight polls on the elephant symbol was also a well thought out strategy.
The BSP has been fighting elections without directly fielding any candidate, for decades. The Hindu reported that a senior BSP leader said that the party had refrained from distributing tickets as it had to deal with multiple contenders and feared that favouring one would alienate the others. However, this time around Mayawati was ready to take the plunge and has shown the doggedness to challenge the BJP in the civic elections.
Updated Date: Dec 02, 2017 18:57:35 IST