New Delhi: When Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati declared her party’s support to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) vice-presidential candidate Jagdeep Dhankhar this Wednesday, it didn’t come as a big surprise.
In the last two months, this is the third time that the BSP leader has showed her seemingly friendly inclinations towards the BJP.
The first instance was during the Lok Sabha bypolls to UP’s Azamgarh and Rampur, both strongholds of the Samajwadi Party (SP), in June. It is believed that the BSP played a key role in ensuring the BJP’s victory in these seats by not contesting in Rampur (seemingly to avoid splitting the Dalit vote) and fielding a Muslim candidate in Azamgarh, apparently to cut into the SP’s votes.
The second instance was when Mayawati backed the NDA’s nominee Droupadi Murmu for President. In her 25 June announcement, Mayawati claimed that the tribal community, to which Murmu belongs, was an “important part of the BSP’s movement” — an allusion to the party’s raison d’etre of representing Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Other Backward Classes (OBC), and religious minorities.
On 3 August, Mayawati adopted a similar line when she took to Twitter to proclaim that the BSP would extend its support to Dhankhar in view of the wider “public interest and the party’s own movement”. The vice-presidential polls will take place on 6 August.
2. बीएसपी ने ऐसे में उपराष्ट्रपति पद के लिए हो रहे चुनाव में भी व्यापक जनहित व अपनी मूवमेन्ट को भी ध्यान में रखकर श्री जगदीप धनखड़ को अपना समर्थन देने का फैसला किया है तथा जिसकी मैं आज औपचारिक रूप से घोषणा भी कर रही हूँ। (2/2)
— Mayawati (@Mayawati) August 3, 2022
Amid speculation that Mayawati is trying to align with the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, BSP leaders have insisted that this is not the case.
Speaking to ThePrint, BSP MP Malook Nagar said that his party supported Dhankhar because he belonged to a “backward” class (Dhankhar is a member of the Jat community).
“It’s part of the BSP movement to support backward classes, Dalits, and tribals. This is why we first supported a tribal woman as President and now an OBC as Vice-President. It is our principle to support disadvantaged groups and has nothing to do with any alignment with the BJP,” Nagar said. “Our support is for the empowerment of communities and in the national interest.”
Another BSP leader, however, said that ahead of the Rajasthan assembly elections next year, the party is eyeing Jat voters. The BSP won six seats in the 2018 elections (out of 190 contested) in the state, although all moved to the Congress.
Political observers, meanwhile, are speculating that Mayawati’s actions suggest that she may be trying to kill two birds with one stone: Weakening the SP and placating the BJP.
Shashi Kant Pandey, professor of Indian politics at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, told ThePrint that he believes Mayawati’s “first priority” is to fight the SP in Uttar Pradesh, which also “suits” the BJP.
“The SP is the second-largest force in UP, and is the enemy of both the BSP and the BJP. In the 2022 assembly elections, the SP got a significant chunk of non-Yadav OBC and Dalit votes in western and eastern UP. By giving its support to a tribal as President, a Jat as vice-president, and by fielding Muslim candidates, Mayawati is sending a message to these communities for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” Pandey said.
Another factor, he added, could be to stay in the good books of the BJP, which has been repeatedly accused of unleashing central investigative agencies on opposition leaders.
Given that Mayawati has already announced her “succession plan” by appointing her younger brother Anand Kumar and nephew Aakash Anand in top party posts, she “does not want to risk the ire of agencies” especially since opposing the BJP does not come with guaranteed returns, Pandey said.
The BJP is not complaining.
“We are trying to get more numbers for the vice-presidential polls by breaking opposition unity, as we did in the presidential election. As far as BSP support is concerned, it is good for the BJP,” a BJP leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The BJP already has 395 votes — Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs — in the vice-presidential election, which is well ahead of the victory mark of 388.
The BSP has 10 MPs in the Lok Sabha and one in the Rajya Sabha. It has only one MLA each in UP and MP.
Mutual benefits for 2024?
Political calculations ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections could be at the heart of Mayawati’s apparent ‘support’ of the BJP, especially in the wake of the BSP steadily losing electoral ground over the years.
In the June bypolls in UP, Mayawati’s decisions made victory easier for the BJP, and, in a sense, boosted the BSP’s political relevance. No BSP candidate was fielded in Rampur, considered a bastion of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, which led to a one-on-one fight between the SP and BJP.
In Azamgarh, the BSP fielded a Muslim candidate, which split the SP’s Muslim vote and benefited the BJP candidate. Both the winning BJP candidates were members of OBC communities.
“Mayawati knows she can’t win elections with just Jatav-Dalit votes,” Pandey said. “Among the Dalits, most of the non-Jatavs have migrated to the BJP. Her outreach to Brahmins ahead of the assembly polls did not help, so she needs other caste groups to stay relevant.”
With Lok Sabha polls around the corner, Pandey added, Mayawati’s goal is to weaken the SP by cutting into Muslim votes too.
The BJP leader who was quoted earlier observed that the BSP could play spoiler, and mostly for the SP, by denting its OBC and Muslim votebank.
“If we look at the 2024 political arithmetic, the BSP staying relevant is important to divide the SP’s Muslim and OBC votes,” he said. “The BSP has a base all across UP… it can make the elections a triangular contest.”
Malook Nagar, however, said that the BSP’s intentions were not to pander to the BJP but to stick to the “party strategy” of backing marginalised communities.
Mayawati’s ‘support’ not a new phenomenon
Over the years, Mayawati has appeared to support the BJP in various ways.
In July 2019, when the Modi government tabled the Triple Talaq Bill in Parliament, the BSP abstained from voting. In August 2019, Mayawati supported the Union government’s decision to scrap Article 370.
Earlier this year, during the UP assembly polls, the BSP fielded 88 Muslim candidates as an attempt to cut the SP’s votes. The BSP lost all these seats, but it did manage to split votes and the BJP won in many of these constituencies.
Mayawati’s election campaign was also muted — she addressed only 18 public rallies. Her laidback approach and seeming abandonment of the non-Jatav Dalits left her with just a single seat in the assembly.
Badri Narayan, professor at G.B. Pant Social Institute, Allahabad, said “the BSP’s shrinking base actually helped the BJP”.
“The Dalit groups who benefited from Modi welfarism deserted the BSP in light of Mayawati’s lack of aggression on Dalit issues, and the BJP-RSS’s aggressive approach to woo them,” he said.
From the looks of it, the BJP seems to be reciprocating some of this bonhomie. For instance, in the November 2020 Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP could have won nine seats from UP with assistance from its allies, but instead it put up only eight candidates. As a result, Ramji Gautam of the BSP won a seat.
Then, during the UP polls, Union Home Minister had a kind word to say about the BSP in an interview, saying that he believed the party would “get votes” whether or not these converted to seats.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)