Samajwadi Party's Outreach to Dalit and OBC Voters Leaves BJP, BSP Nervous

It is clear after the 2022 assembly elections that it is impossible to challenge the BJP by only relying on Muslim and Yadav votes. 

Lucknow: The Samajwadi Party (SP) seems to be pulling up its socks before the 2024 general elections. Akhilesh Yadav, party president, is attempting to unite the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalits to counter the aggressive Hindutva agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In a bid to consolidate the OBCs, the SP is focusing on social justice. The party is persistently demanding a caste census. At the same time, the SP is also looking to expand its outreach to the Dalit community. On April 3, Akhilesh unveiled a statue of Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

On this occasion, the SP chief said the “Samajwadi Movement” launched by his father, the late Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the path shown by socialist leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia were the same as those shown by Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram.

Past experiments

In the past, the SP has tried several experiments to stop the BJP’s juggernaut in UP but failed. The SP joined hands with the Congress and its arch-rival BSP in the 2017 assembly elections and the 2019 general elections, respectively. Both alliances proved futile for the SP.

To dethrone the Adityanath government, Akhilesh stitched an alliance of several small, caste-based parties in the 2022 assembly election. Muslims also overwhelmingly voted for the SP. The SP alliance dented the BJP’s hold, and its seats dropped from 313 to 255, but Akhilesh’s ambitions still needed to be realised.

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The SP also revived itself to some extent in the 2022 assembly elections. The SP bagged 111 seats in 2022, while it got only 48 seats in 2017.

Besides this, the SP also got the support of “Pasi” Dalits in some regions, including Kushambi. For example, the SP candidate, Pallavi Patel, beat deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Muraya in the Sirathu assembly seat, where there are a lot of Pasi voters.

BJP’s success formula

Since 2014, when Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre, the BJP has won every election in UP. Many believe a significant chunk of the OBC votes, particularly from non-Yadav castes, shifted their loyalty to the BJP, as the BJP projected Modi as an OBC leader.

Similarly, the BJP also dented the BSP’s support by taking non-Jatav Dalits into its fold. The combination of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits with upper-caste Hindus made the BJP invincible in UP.

BSP debacle

Mayawati’s BSP was the biggest loser in the 2022 assembly elections. The party put on its worst-ever performance and got only a single seat in the assembly of 403 seats. Its vote share dipped from 22.24% in 2017 to 12.81% in 2022, pushing the party towards an existential crisis.

It was widely believed that the BSP graph dipped because of Mayawati’s reluctance to work on the ground. Her absence from active politics not only hurt the BSP but also left Dalit politics without a leader. Notably, Dalits make up nearly 21.5% of the state’s population.

Akhilesh is now expanding the SP’s outreach among Dalits to take advantage of this vacuum. It is crystal clear after the 2022 assembly elections that it is impossible to challenge the BJP by only relying on Muslim and Yadav votes.

After inaugurating the statue of Kanshi Ram, the SP president is likely to visit Mhow in Madhya Pradesh on April 14 to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti. Mhow is Ambedkar’s birthplace. It is also expected that Rashtriya Lok Dal president Jayant Chowdhry and Azad Samaj Party chief Chandra Shekar Azad will accompany Akhilesh to Mhow.

BJP, BSP apprehensive

Ever since Akhilesh started expanding the SP’s outreach among Dalits, Mayawati and the BJP have been apprehensive. Mayawati said while Akhilesh is trying a political manoeuvre, Dalits already know his intentions and will never support the SP.

The BSP is also upset as the party leadership believes that Akhilesh’s approach might upset their apple cart in 2024. A senior party leader says, on the condition of anonymity, that Chandrashekar is emerging as a young Dalit leader, and if he supported the SP, it could change the political scenario in the future.

Additionally, he claimed that Chandrashekhar supported Madan Bhaiyya, an RLD candidate who had the support of the SP, in the by-elections in Khatauli and Muzaffar Nagar, and he won the seat that was previously with the BJP.

BJP’s counter

The BJP has also become active in trying to bring Dalits into its fold. Union home minister Amit Shah visited Kushambi on April 7. It is widely believed that Shah went there to connect with Dalit voters, as this constituency is home to a large number of non-Jatav Dalits, especially from the Pasi community.

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The apprehension about Dalit votes is writ large and visible in the BJP. To counter Akhilesh’s Dalit outreach, the BJP raised the infamous guest house case of 1996. In the infamous incident, SP workers allegedly attacked Mayawati.

The BSP has tasked its SC/ST wing with reaching out to the Dalit community and reminding them of how the BJP protected Mayawati from the SP workers’ alleged attack 27 years ago.

Ambedkarite Dalits are not with Hindutva’

Badri Narayan, a political commentator, says that Jatavs will still vote for Mayawati, but Akhilesh’s efforts to reach out to people who aren’t Jatavs could help bring them into his party.

Meanwhile, Dalit rights activist Ram Kumar says that only some old Dalits of the Kanshi Ram era, who faced oppression and discrimination from the upper caste, are with the BSP. “The young Dalits who neither faces oppression nor discrimination of that scale are looking for a better future.”

“This young generation sees no hope in Mayawati; they may be swayed into SP for their future,” says Kumar. He went on to say educated Dalits and Ambedkarite Dalits are neither with the Hindutva of the BJP nor with the regressive politics of the BSP.

Asad Rizvi is a journalist based in Lucknow.