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The Hindu
The Hindu
Anuj Kumar

With its core vote intact, BSP seeks to play spoilsport in U.P.

Bucking the perception of being the ‘B’ team of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is set to spoil the prospects of the BJP in the first two rounds of voting for Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Ahead of the BSP’s first big-ticket rally in western U.P.’s Nagina constituency on April 6, to be addressed by party leader Akash Anand, the caste equation of the party’s candidates for the 16 seats that go to polls on April 19 and 26 reveals that party supremo Mayawati aims to dent the vote banks of both the ruling NDA and the Opposition INDIA bloc in the region.

Both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP are struggling to fight against the combined strength of the BJP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in the region. However, political observers say that the BSP’s strategy is to build its core vote bank of Jatavs by using discontentment among specific communities to its advantage, while hoping that Muslims will show faith in Ms. Mayawati’s non-partisan stand.

Caste calculus

Tapping on the Thakur and Tyagi discontent against the BJP, the BSP chief has fielded Rajput candidates in Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar, and a Tyagi from Meerut. In Muzaffarnagar, she has played the most backward caste (MBC) card by positioning a Prajapti candidate against the might of the BJP’s Sanjeev Balyan. MBCs have been the electoral muscle of the BJP in the last two elections, but have been squirming because of a lack of representation from the Jat belt. In Bijnor, which Ms. Mayawati herself represented in 1989, she has fielded an influential Jat candidate to take on the Gurjar pick of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, and in Baghpat, she has picked a Gurjar to take on the Jat choice of the RLD.

The biggest surprise came in Aligarh where, after initially giving the ticket to the former district president of AIMIM, who would have dented the prospects of the Jat SP-Congress candidate, she brought in a Brahmin turncoat of the BJP to take on Satish Gautam, the two-time BJP MP who is facing the ire of the Kalyan Singh family. Similarly in Mathura, after boxer Vijender Singh switched sides from the Congress to the BJP, the BSP quickly changed its candidate and brought in a disgruntled BJP Jat leader to take on the BJP’s Hema Malini.

Also read | Focus on Muslim outreach, BSP announces 25 candidates for Lok Sabha polls

Spoiling the BJP’s game

It is a rare election where Aligarh, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, and Baghpat have no Muslim candidate from both the SP and the BSP. SP believes that the Muslims are with it anyway, but the fact that the BSP has not used the Muslim card shows that it is targeting the BJP vote on these seats.

Hum ko BJP aur SP dono ka khel bigadna hain. Tabhi hamara game banega (We have to spoil the game of the BJP and the SP to secure our prospects),” said Suraj Singh, the BSP leader in charge of the Aligarh and Kanpur divisions. “By polarising the election, the BJP picks the SP as its easy rival. It feels threatened by the BSP because it has a dedicated cadre and vote. So it uses a section of the media to project that the BSP is against the interest of Muslims. We are working on the ground to change that perception and in seats like Aligarh, we don’t feel we need a Muslim candidate to get the community’s vote,” he said, adding that the party was fighting to save the Constitution and ensure reservation in jobs.

The BSP has fielded Muslim candidates from Kairana, Rampur, Pilibhit, Moradabad, Saharanpur, and Amroha. Except for Pilibhit, these are seats where the Muslim population is more than 45%.

“In most of these seats, the SP-Congress alliance is strong. Even in the next phases, we will target both the SP and BJP depending on who is the main contender,” Mr. Singh said. For instance, in Mainpuri, the BSP has fielded a non-Yadav OBC Shakya face to take on Dimple Yadav and a Sikh candidate from Kheri to channelise farmer anger.

Neutral stance

Claiming that the BSP is the only alternative to the Hindutva politics of the BJP, Meerut-based Dalit thinker Sushil Gautam said that centuries of suffering will not allow any drift among Behenji’s core vote bank of 10% to 13%.

Dr. Gautam added that Muslims had been wary of Ms. Mayawati since she had canvassed for the then-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2002 after the Godhra incident. “However, the choice of candidates shows she has maintained her neutral stance and is applying her social engineering to western U.P. this time. Woh palti nahin hain (She hasn’t backpedaled). Muslims know that the SP and the Congress do not have any vote base in western U.P., and are solely dependent on their community. The confusion in SP’s ticket distribution has also helped the party,” he said.

Making changes

In 2019, the BSP fought the election in alliance with the SP and RLD, and won four of the five seats it contested out of the 16 that are going to the polls in the first two phases this time around. The SP had secured two and the BJP had won the remaining 10. This time, the BSP has dropped three of its four previous winners and has shifted Girish Chandra, currently the MP from the Nagina reserved seat, to the Bulandshahar reserved seat. Apart from Mr. Chandra and Anis Ahmad Khan, none of the other candidates come from the BSP cadre, but all have the money power required to make a fist of it.

On the rising dynastic flavour in the Ambedkarite party, Mr. Singh said that Ms. Mayawati is making her nephew Mr. Anand toil within the organisation to bring youthful energy to the movement. Praising Ms Mayawati’s elephantine memory, Mr. Singh said the strings were still very much in the control of Behenji. “Even today, she decides the booth-level strategy,” he said.

Losing battle

Describing the Azad Samaj Party’s Chandrashekhar Azad as an agent of the BJP and Congress, Mr. Singh claimed that he had been begging for a platform without results instead of joining the Bahujan movement. “The recent Y-security and display of money power show that the BJP is using him against us,” he alleged.

While Dr. Gautam said the party did not match the BJP in taking its ideas to the people, a veteran party worker admitted that the BSP was fighting a losing battle. “Earlier, parties used to decide their candidates after going through the BSP’s list. This time, it is the other way around. We are responding to the BJP’s choices,” he rued.

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