The second alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has also proven to be short-lived, if not successful unlike the previous one.
In 1993, the first SP-BSP alliance wrested power from the hands of a rising Bharatiya Janata Party amidst the mandir wave, but this time it could win only 15 Lok Sabha seats out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh.
BSP chief Mayawati criticised the SP for its failure to transfer Yadav votes to BSP candidates, despite the transfer of BSP votes to SP candidates, while also indicating that the party no longer commands the votes of even Yadavs in the state. She declared that the BSP would be contesting the upcoming assembly by-elections in UP alone, leaving no doubt that the mahagathbandhan of SP-BSP-Rashtriya Lok Dal is over now.
She made these declarations on Monday, after a detailed discussion with BSP leaders who informed her about the ‘ground level’ dynamics. On the face of it, the allegations look credible. While the BSP has won 10 seats this time, SP could win only five alike 2014, meaning it may have suffered more had the alliance not taken place.
Secondly, BSP’s vote share in this election was 19.2%, which experienced little drop from the 19.6% it got in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in UP. On the other hand, SP’s vote share this time was around 18%, a sharp drop from the 22.35% it got in 2014.
Is the SP then a dying party, a dead weight which the BSP rightly shrugged off in time? A detailed analysis says otherwise.
BSP’s allegations on vote transfer don’t hold much water
Let’s take the first claim, that it was only the BSP’s votes which were transferred to the alliance candidates, and not vice versa. The combined vote share of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance this time was 38.89%. Experts believed that if not anybody else’s, the alliance would at least win the Jatav votes (due to the BSP), Yadav and Muslim votes (due to the SP) and a significant percentage of Jat votes (due to the RLD).
As per rough estimates, Muslims are around 19% of the population in UP, Jatavs around 10-11%, Jats 2-3% and Yadavs 8-9%. This bloc comes to be around 41% of the population in UP, and the mahagathbandhan got roughly 39% votes. According to CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey, while Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims votes decisively in favour of the alliance (60% or more), more than three-fourths of Jat voters continued to stay with the BJP.
This means that barring Jats, SP-BSP did transfer to each other. Mayawati’s complaint may have been valid against RLD chief Ajit Singh who failed to bring in the Jat votes, but it holds little water against the SP. What worked against the alliance was that votes of other communities consolidated behind the BJP, raising its vote share in UP from 42% in 2014 to 49.6% in 2019.
The stable 19% vote share myth
It is clear that the BSP is making these attacks on the SP from two high grounds – that it won twice as many seats as its partner, and that its vote share is stable while the SP’s decreased significantly. Let’s take the second argument first. As mentioned previously, BSP’s vote share in the Lok Sabha elections in UP stayed at more than 19% in 2014 and 2019, while SP’s share came down from 22.35% in 2014 to 18% in 2019.
However, since both parties did not contest on all seats this time unlike 2014 (in the seat-sharing formula, SP contested on 37 while BSP contested on 38 seats this time, leaving three for the RLD and two for the Congress), it would be wrong to equate both these cases. While the BSP’s same vote share came from around 80 seats last time, this time it came from only 38 seats. This makes the seats contested extremely important, and it is where Mayawati’s claim falls apart.
The BSP had an unusual advantage in terms of seats contested, as it chose the best seats possible out of the 80, leaving the difficult ones for the SP. There are around 13 seats where the BSP was not the runner-up in 2014, but it got them in the alliance through hard bargain (including Saharanpur, Bijnor, Nagina, Amroha, Shrawasti, Lalganj etc). It won all of them this time. On the other hand, the SP got seats like Lucknow, Ghaziabad and Kanpur, which are traditionally BJP strongholds.
There was widespread opposition to this ‘imposed choice’ from SP leaders and cadres at the time, including national president Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam had clearly said way back in February that the cornering of potentially winnable seats by the BSP will limit the SP’s prospects in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. However, for the greater interest of an anti-BJP alliance, Akhilesh Yadav decided to concede to these ‘unjust’ demands. As the BSP benefitted from this, it is unethical of it to criticise the SP while flaunting its victory on seats which it got due to the SP’s goodwill.
Bahujan party of Jatav party?
The BSP emerged from a well-crafted movement under the superb guidance of Kanshi Ram, claiming to bring backward groups, minorities and Dalits together. However, with repeated defections, blunders and defeats, the current BSP is just a skeleton of the past and its claims about having a bigger base than SP, or even representing all Dalits, is severely inflated.
This could also be understood by comparing BSP’s votes on some of the won seats in 2019 with the votes it got on them in 2017. Since one Lok Sabha comprises five assembly seats in UP (except three Lok Sabha seats), for this I will be summing up the votes of the SP and BSP in the 2017 elections, and comparing it with the 2019 results.
On the Nagina seat of western UP, BSP’s Girish Chandra won this time by polling 5,68,378 votes while in 2017, BSP got only 2,30,560 votes on all five assembly seats of Nagina while the SP-Congress alliance (the parties contested together in 2017) got 3,42,461 votes.
In eastern UP’s Jaunpur, BSP’s Shyam Singh Yadav won, polling 5,21,128 votes while the party could win only 2,66,486 votes in all five assemblies of Jaunpur in 2017; the SP-Congress alliance got 3,20,366 votes then.
In Bijnor, BSP’s Maluk Nagar won this time, polling 5,61,045 votes while BSP’s total vote in all five assembly seats of this constituency in 2017 was 2,55,948 only; the SP-Congress alliance got around three lakh votes here. Since the votes of the Congress in this region are quite insignificant, as reflected in this Lok Sabha election too, it becomes clear that the BSP was legging behind SP even in this region which does not have Yadav voters. The BSP benefitted disproportionately from the alliance rather than due to its own support base.
Further, in the 2017 assembly elections, the BSP had fielded Muslims on all six general seats in Bijnor district. The fact that despite that, the votes SP got here were higher than BSP’s means that the Muslims preferred the SP over BSP. Subsequent election studies have in fact pointed out clearly that a majority of Muslim voters consider the SP to be their first choice.
Adding the findings of the recent CSDS post-poll study on UP to this, we can conclude that currently, the SP enjoys the support of a majority of Yadav and Muslim voters, which constitute around 30% of UP’s population. The BSP, on the other hand, is left with majority support from just one community – the Jatavs, who are around 11% of the state’s population. The BJP has a unique social support base comprising a majority of ‘upper’ castes, non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs. In this situation, BSP’s claims about its own strength and SP’s weakness are severely misplaced.
Changing socio-economic dynamics could signal new possibilities
In previous decades dominated by limited opportunities and high rural populations, the economic interests of Dalits and OBCs-dominant castes were quite contradictory. While both of them were mostly engaged in agriculture, the dominant castes were landowners while the Dalits worked as agrarian labourers, and hence an exploiter-exploited dynamic was at play. Persistent agrarian crises, increased urbanisation and globalisation have severely altered those relations now.
While Dalits have shifted to various non-farm jobs, the dominant castes too are not solely dependent on agriculture. The limitations of resources and lack of assertion that marred the Dalit castes are diminishing, as evident from the widespread protests against the Supreme Court order on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. In this situation where the Dalits are more resourceful and confident then ever, any alliance of Dalits with OBCs or other dominant castes does not suffer from past impediments of severe inequality. Hence Dalit interests could be articulated even by those parties which are not exclusively Dalit based.
Thus, while the BJP previously needed an alliance with the BSP to mobilise Dalit support, it could now get the support of non-Jatav Dalits (as claimed by various post-poll studies) on its own. In this situation, the exceptional advantage that the BSP used to enjoy as the exclusive spokesperson of all Dalits is severely eroded, as the party represents only the Jatavs now.
Increased competitiveness of politics in UP indicates that the coming days are going to be tough for both the SP and BSP. Of the two, though, they will be tougher for the BSP, which will not be able to ride on the waves of support from its alliance partner as it so thanklessly did in the 2019 elections.
Rajan Pandey is a freelance journalist and co-author of Battleground UP: Politics in the Land of Ram.