The trumpet calls which are generally associated with the Elephant, the symbol of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), are not heard this time in the election arena of the five States, especially in its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh. Its ‘mahout’ Mayawati is also surprisingly not so vocal barring the recent scathing attack on Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav on his anti-Dalit actions while he was Chief Minister. She demanded an explanation from Akhilesh Yadav on his past actions. The latest announcement of not contesting the Assembly election this time may be an indication of the political ‘fatigue’ of the Elephant.
Earlier, the presence of BSP in the election used to electrify the entire arena. It was always a multi-cornered contest in Uttar Pradesh. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Congress became obsolete in the State and regional parties gained the upper hand. After BSP’s solo victory in 2007, Mayawati’s fortunes increased. She could become the CM of the State four times, though she could complete the five year term only once. The loss of face in 2017 UP Assembly elections saw BSP winning only 19 seats. Though the party recovered in 2019 Lok Sabha elections to win 10 seats, its vote share declined. Despite aligning with Samajwadi Party in that election, BSP failed to impress the voters in UP. In fact out of those 19 BSP MLAs in the Assembly not more than four are with Mayawati now as rest of them migrated to other parties in search of greener pastures.
The decline of BSP is not sudden but is a steady decline after its peak performance of 2007 where it captured UP all alone with a vote share of 30.4 per cent and 206 seats. At her peak popularity of 2007 Mayawati was projected as the de-facto Prime Ministerial candidate of the Left-backed Third Front in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The prospect of Mayawati becoming the first Dalit PM had then mobilised Dalit voters in favour of BSP even outside UP. BSP made impressive gains in Maharashtra, Haryana and Punjab then.
Mayawati’s corruption is visible to all in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Her lavish celebrations of birthdays and collections diminished her image of being a money gatherer for personal aggrandisement
Within five years of her rule, BSP seat strength came down to 80 and vote share declined to 25.9 per cent. It was SP which came to power in 2012 on the campaign of “remove corrupt Mayawati”. It is a fact that Mayawati is obsessed with power and behaved with an insecure, impatience mind and exhibited dictatorial behaviour that helped the SP campaign. Mayawati lost her own Dalit vote bank in that election and that surprised many including her own cadre. The reason for Mayawati loss was her agenda of pushing aside all other SC communities, despite claims of being a party of Dalits, and pampered her own community of Jatavs. Thus BSP has alienated the majority of SC castes while Jatavs rose in the party ranks. The anger in non-Jatav SC castes grew culminating in the loss of her preeminent SC leader tag.
Tarnishing Dalit Leaders’ Image
Mayawati’s corruption is visible to all in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Her lavish celebrations of birthdays and collections diminished her image of being a money gatherer for personal aggrandisement. Her obsession with building memorials of her mentor, naming them after her perceived Dalit icons, changing the names of the existing places to suit her political publicity, building parks with Elephants, her party symbol, images across the State were seen as a wasteful expenditure and self-projection. Ultimately it was a wasted chance and monumental failure of Mayawati, the first Dalit CM in India, after so many decades. Through her actions Mayawati is perceived as the one who sullied the image of Dalit leaders in the political field. By 2017 the image of BSP was further declined with the win of only 19 seats despite aligning with SP and getting 22.2 per cent vote share.
Conceding Ground to Samajwadi Party
After Bharatiya Janata Party scored a huge victory in 2017 Assembly elections by winning unprecedented 302 seats in Uttar Pradesh and maintained its tempo in 2019 Lok Sabha elections where it won 67 seats despite the combined opposition of BSP and SP, Mayawati failed to reboot her strategy. She conceded ground to Akhilesh Yadav who now made his SP as the main challenger to BJP. Her failure to attract voters is evident from its losses in the by-polls held in UP after 2017. The party failed to win even a single seat in 11 by-elections held and lost 4.5 percentage points of votes.
Diminishing Influence in Other States
Punjab is the State to which BSP founder Kanshi Ram belonged and there it was a strong force prior to 2014 Lok Sabha elections. During the last seven years, BSP lost that State too. Haryana, another stronghold state for BSP, was also lost. Though BSP was contesting elections in all other States including and winning one or two seats, those elected MLAs are not remaining loyal to the party. Maharashtra, the other State where Dalit activism is strong, is also no more welcoming the ‘Elephant’ moves there.
With diminishing influence and parallel rise of youth and more aggressive, vocal Dalit activists like Chandrashekhar Azad and others hit the image of Mayawati badly. Into its 38th year, the Elephant is showing natural ageing and fatigue in its run. With Mayawati, its mahout not in full control, the movement of Elephant is becoming pedestrian. If the Elephant fails to recover from its fatigue and exhibit its earlier vigour in the 2022 UP Assembly elections, it may be the end of the road for BSP.