BHOPAL/JAIPUR/MUMBAI: The recent expulsion of senior Bahujan Samaj Party leaders and MLAs, Lalji Verma and Ramachal Rajbhar, from the party, reducing it to just seven seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly, is just one part of the story that has afflicted the Dalit outfit in recent times.
The steady erosion of the party’s rank and file in UP, the BSP’s main stomping ground, has also been matched by the party’s slow death in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, two other states where the party had a sizeable presence but is now struggling to stay afloat.
Even as the BSP appears to be becoming a spent force in the three Hindi-speaking states, there is simultaneously a decline of Dalit-based political parties in Maharashtra, the birthplace of B R Ambedkar, where the socially backward caste once had a fairly strong political base.
The numbers in all these states are telling. First UP. In the 2017 assembly elections, despite a strong Narendra Modi wave the BSP won three out of the five seats in Ambedkar Nagar district, cementing the notion that the district was the party’s impregnable fortress.
Two of those seats were won by expelled leaders Verma and Rajbhar. But in the recently-held panchayat polls, out of the 41 seats in the district, the party could only win seven. The BSP’s declining fortunes in UP are also apparent in the assembly elections. In the 2007 state elections, the Mayawati-led party was voted to power with a majority on its own, winning 206 of the 403 seats and managing a vote share of 30.43 per cent.
In the next polls in 2012, the party won only 80 seats with 25.91 per cent votes. This came down further in 2017, when the party managed only 19 seats with 22.24 per cent votes. It is ditto in Madhya Pradesh. In the 2008 assembly polls, the party won seven seats with 9 per cent votes. This was a year after Mayawati had powered the party to victory in UP. But the party’s tally declined to just four seats with 6.29 per cent votes in the 2013 polls. In 2018 it fell further as the party won just two seats with 5.01 per cent votes.
The story in Rajasthan is almost similar to UP and MP. In the 2008 state elections, the party won six seats, getting 7.60 per cent votes. This declined to three seats and 3.37 per cent votes in 2013. In the last assembly polls the party fared marginally better, bagging six seats and improving its vote share to 4.1 per cent.
In Maharashtra, Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, a party that has in its ranks tribal and gipsy communities other than Dalits, has seen a sharp decline in 2019 itself. The party contested the Lok Sabha polls for the first time that year.
Although it did not manage to win a single seat, it garnered 41 lakh votes with a percentage of 7.64 per cent. But just a few months later in the 2019 assembly polls held in October, the party got only 24 lakh votes at 4.6 per cent. The decline of the Dalit parties can also be measured by the dwindling membership numbers. The Rajasthan BSP’s members are down from 8 lakh in 2008 to 5 lakh currently. Union minister Ramdas Athawale’s Republican Party of India in Maharashtra had five lakh members in 2009. This fell to three lakh in 2014 and currently it is said the party has only 1 lakh members.
The BSP’s loss has been the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress party’s gain. In UP, many Dalits are increasingly looking at the BJP as an alternative while in Rajasthan and MP, the Congress has gained at the BSP’s cost. “The BSP thrived in UP due to its 18-21 per cent Dalit vote bank, but it was dented heavily by the BJP in 2017. This could be replicated in 2022, particularly with the BJP wooing the Dalits aggressively with welfare schemes. The time is near when Mayawati and her party might become irrelevant in UP politics,” said Anshuman Shukla, a senior political journalist in Lucknow.
In Rajasthan, despite the rise of the BSP the Dalits have had a strong connect with the Congress, according to political analyst Naleen Kumar in Jaipur. “The Dalits in Rajasthan find the Congress a friendly party. There are 22 royal families and the state has a feudalistic history. The Dalits credit the Congress for bringing the state out of that mindset,” he said.
The lack of a tall leader is blamed for the poor Dalit assertion in Maharashtra despite the community constituting 13 per cent of the state’s population. “Dalits are in search of a good leader who can be their voice in parliament and various platforms,” said Bandhuraj Lone, a senior journalist and activist who has closely studied Dalit politics.
Dalit dominated districts
Budaun, Etawah, Agra, Aligarh, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Hathras, Kaushambi, Fatehpur, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Saharanpur, Banda, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Chitrakoot, Jaunpur, Prayagraj, Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Mau, Ghazipur, Shrawasti, Baharaich, Chandauli, Faizabad, Bhadohi
Gwalior, Morena, Bhind, Sheopur, Shivpuri, Ashok Nagar, Satna, Rewa, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Niwari, Panna, Ujjain, Agar-Malwa
Bharatpur, Dholpur, Alwar, Sawai Madhopur, Karauli, Dausa, Sikar, Churu, Jhunjhunu, Hanumangarh, Nagaur, Barmer
Aurangabad, Nagpur, Akola, Wasim, Solapur, Kalyan, Thane, Nanded, Osmanabad