Elections

The Elephant Can Remember: How The BSP Is Looking To Reinvent Itself This Poll Season

The Bahujan Samaj Party remains an enigma, but it has come up with a very smart game plan for the Lok Sabha elections

Photo:Tribhuvan Tiwari
A Serious Contender: The Bahujan Samaj Party’s election symbol painted on a wall in Muzaffarnagar Photo:Tribhuvan Tiwari
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The many animated discussions at tea stalls near Darul Shifa in Lucknow, which used to be a hospital during the erstwhile Nawabi era, revolve around Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) politics. The building now houses flats of MLAs of the UP assembly. Several shops selling khadi kurta-pyjamas, ideal clothes for aspiring politicians, are also to be found in Darul Shifa’s market. In these establishments too, there is a lot of talk about UP politics. But the focus of such debates and discussions has changed markedly in the past three months. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which was given very little attention earlier, is now the epicentre of the conversation. There is so much curiosity and conjuncture about the party because the two sources of information—leaders of the BSP and insiders passing on information about it—both remain tightlipped. Very few details are made available for public consumption by the BSP.

Last December, the BSP was nowhere in the news. However, from January to February, speculation was rife about its seat-sharing with the INDIA alliance. In March, the BSP was not counted as a serious contender. When Mayawati addressed her first rally in April, things changed. The BSP seems to have turned the tables on both INDIA and NDA, and it is harming the prospects of both. The two will have to revise their strategy as a result.

The uncertainty clouding the BSP has always mesmerised poli­tical pundits. Hardly anyone could get their guesses right regarding the party. Founded in 1984, the BSP has been in power four times with Mayawati as the chief minister of UP. Shedding its rustic image, the party has sprung many surprises in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls with the calculations of opposition parties going for a toss.

Battle for Survival

It has been a trend that the BSP loses its sitting members after every Lok Sabha election. Even in the outgoing parliament where it held ten seats, none of the ten have been given tickets by the party. In 2014, the BSP drew a blank in the Lok Sabha while in 2019, it won 10 seats in alliance with the congress-roots-to-joining-india-bloc">Samajwadi Party (SP). Often the credit has been given to the SP-BSP alliance. Perhaps this election will prove a turning point for the BSP and this is understood in clear terms by the blue brigade. Since releasing the first list of candidates on March 24, the BSP has focused on its own. “Haathi ko zinda rakhna hain,”—this is the key motto of its supporters.

Many political stalwarts find it hard to digest the kind of politics the BSP practises. It joined hands with the Samajwadi Party (SP) to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1993 in UP, later formed a government with the BJP’s support in 1995. Then, it contested in alliance with the Congress to stop the BJP and the SP. Interestingly, the BSP formed a government thrice in UP with BJP support, but contested polls with the Congress or SP alliance to stop the BJP in UP. The more one looks at the facts, the politics of the BSP becomes clearer—it is to retain the key to power. Perhaps realising this, the BSP is going alone in the Lok Sabha polls in UP this time. But again, no one knows for sure what is in store for the future when it comes to the BSP.

The Entry of Akash Anand

Officially now heir apparent to Mayawati, Akash Anand who has been appointed as national coordinator of the party, is touring the state. This is the first time that any BSP leader has gained such prominence after its national president. He is holding independent rallies which attract the attention of the party’s cadres. His position can be gauged from the fact that there is just one big chair on stage at public rallies and events. The other leaders are not seated there.

It has been a long journey for the BSP since 1984, when its founder Kanshi Ram contested his first Lok Sabha polls from the Janjgir seat.

Anand has added the much needed X factor to the BSP. The youth, disenchanted due to successive defeats and unable to connect with Mayawati, is at ease with Anand. “He is intelligent, wears spectacles and is handsome,”–this is what the party cadre says during his rallies. They gush, “achcha dikhta hai, achcha bolta hai” (he looks good and he speaks well). They like him and his style. He has filled the vacant space for the youth, which was being claimed by Azad Samaj Party supremo, Chandrashekhar.

Anand’s entry has paved the way for the party to fan out in more places, thus increasing its reach. Besides Mayawati, he is independently holding rallies and earning applause from the public. Under his leadership, much-needed revamping has been done. BSP’s official website is now active, and so is the WhatsApp channel highlighting rallies and speeches, and the Twitter handle shares all details—building an immediate connection with the youth. Old-timers also appreciate this since it helps to keep Dalit youths well-informed too.

Mayawati’s Game Plan

Though the BSP won ten seats in 2019, this time, the election seems to be locked fiercely. From the sidelines, she has again catapulted the BSP to the forefront. Her aura and charisma are still intact. She remains a crowd puller. Her style of being direct in her speeches is well-received among her cadre. She still maintains her previous aura and the desertion of her MPs from the party before the elections do not affect her.

It has been a long journey for the BSP since 1984, when its founder Kanshi Ram contested his first Lok Sabha polls from the Janjgir seat in undivided Madhya Pradesh and polled nearly 32,000 votes. Now, the BSP is again in a mode to reinvent itself.

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On the eve of the first round of polling, Mayawati exhorted her supporters to safeguard their vote so that it cannot be bought, looted, and is not misused on the basis of money power and mandir-masjid. Unlike in the past, Mayawati is active on Twitter now, and promptly responds to important developments. She has taken up crucial issues such as the Haldwani violence and the Sandeshkhali incident, and even publicly called the SP anti-Dalit. The Central government’s actions such as the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) too has received flak.

Mayawati’s charisma still holds sway over a large section of Dalits and so far, the well-managed campaign for her party has revived the BSP’s chances.

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The BSP has sprung many surprises. It came as a complete surprise (and a shock for some) when Mayawati announced that the BSP will contest the Lok Sabha election alone in UP. The ticket distribution was prompt. Mayawati has played her cards quite judiciously. For example at Muzaffarnagar in western UP, she has fielded Dara Singh Prajapati. The whole equation has now changed as the seat has a sizeable number of Prajapati community voters; even the adjoining seats are now affected. In eastern UP’s Jaunpur, she did not hesitate to field Srikala Reddy Singh, wife of jailed strongman-politician Dhananjay Singh. Both the SP and the BJP are now in a tight spot. Tickets given to Bheem Rajbhar in Azamgarh and Muslim Khan in Badaun have disturbed the equations of the SP’s prominent candidates Dharmendra Yadav and Aditya Yadav, both of whom are cousins of SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav. Mayawati has come up with such a smart game plan that none of the opposition parties can relax.

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The results of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls may not turn out as per expectations for her, but clearly Mayawati has set her eyes on the 2027 assembly polls. The BSP cannot be written off. In most of the constituencies in UP, it is now a common statement—the results depend on how the BSP will perform.

(With inputs from Aas Mohammad, Saharanpur)

Faisal Fareed is a journalist who writes on political and social issues

This appeared in the print as 'The Elephant Can Remember'

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