Will Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) be the dark horse in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly election?
Opinion polls do not offer much hope to the party, placing it at number three behind the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party, but given the way all parties are placed at the moment it could spring a surprise.
The ABP-CSDS poll predicts 93-103 seats for the BSP, with 22 percent of vote share, well behind SP's 141-151 seats and the BJP's 129-139 with 30 and 27 percent vote share respectively. India Today-Axis survey gives a clear majority to the BJP (206-216 seats, 33 percent vote share). The SP and BSP come second and third with 92-97 and 75-85 seats with a vote share 26 percent each. Obviously, things don't look bright for Mayawati's party.
In the 2012 Assembly election, the party's vote share stood at a little above 25 percent, nearly five percent down from its share of above 30 percent in 2007. The five percent gap, however, does not quite explain the huge swing in terms of seats in favour of the SP, which ended with 224 seats. The BSP's tally came down by 126 seat to 80. In the parliamentary polls of 2009, the party had secured 27 percent of votes and 20 seats. The point is that the party has been a steady performer in terms of garnering votes.
With the incumbency factor working against the ruling party, given the current situation of vertical split and a bit of clever social engineering, a similar swing back in favour of the BSP could have been anticipated in the coming election. However, the general election of 2014 has left all existing equations in the state topsy-turvy, and the BSP vulnerable. Riding on the Narendra Modi wave the BJP scored a majestic victory — 71 seats with a brute vote share of above 42 percent. The BSP's vote share touched a low 19 percent, indicating a chunk of Dalit votes, perhaps excluding those of Yatavs, the core supporters of Mayawati, had shifted to the BJP.
Has Mayawati done enough between 2014 and 2017 to recover her depleted base? It's not her style to communicate directly with target groups or even party cadre. The answer depends a lot on how the voters' perception of the BJP has changed in the period. Sure, the Modi 'wave' has evaporated but the goodwill for him is somewhat intact. Whether it converts into votes in a state election where local issues dominate is a different matter though. The BJP's image has taken a beating after some incidents of atrocity on Dalits in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country. Moreover, the big change the party promised is yet to be visible on the ground.
That the enthusiasm for the party has declined is evident from the surveys. The India Today-Axis survey puts the BJP's possible vote share at 33 percent; the other survey pegs it at 27 percent. So if the BJP is losing votes who is gaining them?
Given the intense battle for control in the Samajwadi Party between Mulayam Singh Yadav and son and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, it is unlikely that the party would emerge a strong contender for power. If they go their separate ways the party's vote base would get divided. Akhilesh may appear stronger now but he certainly is less adept at building social coalitions as his father. Development as a poll issue has limited traction in a caste-ridden society. Without him by his side the aging and ailing Mulayam is also hamstrung. He is no more fit enough to carry out tough election campaigns. It is also possible that his support base sees Akhilesh as a better option for the long term.
Whatever the case, the SP is not in a position to take benefit of the votes moving away from the BJP. With Congress still showing no sign of being a serious contender to power, the only option left is the BSP. In case the Samajwadi Party family feud does not end, the Muslim votes are likely to shift to Mayawati's party. With a section of Dalits who shifted in 2014 back in BSP fold and a section of Brahmins weighing in, she can expect a turnaround. It's too early to write her off.
Updated Date: Jan 06, 2017 18:10 PM