Following the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from Lok Sabha, while several Opposition parties have come together, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its leader Mayawati have remained aloof. There is now an attempt being made to bring her around to forge a broader coalition.
The newfound Opposition unity is avowedly to ‘defend and save democracy and fight against crony capitalism,’ which they allege is the hallmark of the current dispensation at the Centre. Mayawati has not shown any interest in joining the Opposition bandwagon so far nor has she received any invitations from them.
However, this may change in the times to come as Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge is likely to invite chiefs of all Opposition parties for talks on the current political scene. His predecessor Sonia Gandhi is part of the move to bring different parties together, say party insiders.
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So far, the BSP has not been part of the morning meetings that used to take place in the Parliament office of Kharge, who is also the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. These meetings bring together the floor leaders of all 16 parties — the number has now increased to 19 — on a daily basis. They chart out the day’s strategy to be followed in both the Houses of the Parliament. The floor leaders were invited by Kharge on March 27 for an hour-long meeting, followed by dinner. The BSP did not participate.
Why Opposition parties must unite
Mayawati, the supreme leader of the BSP, wields significant influence among a huge section of Dalit voters in the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh as well as in several other regions beyond the North. Excluding her from the wider opposition coalition would be equivalent to disregarding the Dalit community’s political aspirations in the upcoming general elections.
During the 2022 Assembly polls in UP, the BSP ended up with one seat in the Vidhan Sabha and nearly 13 per cent votes while Congress won two seats with a little over two per cent votes. Only the Samajwadi Party (SP), led by Akhilesh Yadav, improved its vote percentage by getting over 32 per cent as compared to 28.32 per cent in the 2017 polls. On the other hand, BJP’s vote bank went up from 41.3 per cent in 2022 to 41.57 per cent in 2017.
The SP and Congress fought 2017 Assembly polls in alliance, but couldn’t stall BJP’s rise. The BSP ended up with 19 seats with a poll percentage of 22.23, whereas the SP got 47 seats.
Similarly, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, despite forming an alliance, the BSP and SP could not prevent the BJP from winning a majority with 62 out of 80 seats and a vote share of 49.6%. The BSP won 10 seats, while the SP won 5 seats and the Congress won only 1 seat. Their respective vote shares were 19.26%, 17.96%, and 6.31%, respectively.
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If the opposition parties were able to unite and consolidate their vote share, which amounted to 43.53 percent in the previous election, they may not be able to overcome the BJP’s lead, but they could potentially reduce the number of seats won by the BJP.
In the 2022 elections, the BJP was able to secure a significant portion of the Dalit votes that were traditionally aligned with the BSP. According to Mayawati, this was due to the fact that Muslim voters had largely supported the SP, which caused Dalits to turn towards the BJP as a means of preventing an SP-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance from taking power. This was because the intermediate castes were seen as the immediate oppressors of Dalits.
Thus, a dismal fate may well await these parties once again in the next year’s Lok Sabha polls unless they bury their differences and unite to face the 2024 Parliamentary elections.
The importance of being Mayawati
The supporters of opposition unity seem to have missed the importance of reaching an understanding with the BSP before the next parliamentary elections. The BJP had quietly enlisted BSP’s support for the election of Draupadi Murmu in 2022 — and before that Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 — to the post of President.
Mayawati first became the UP CM in 1995, albeit for a few months, with the support of the BJP. She had two more brief stints in the top job before finally coming to power on her own in 2007 for a full five-year term. This was made possible due to a social alliance with Muslims and Brahmins. Since then, Mayawati has been attempting to regain the support of these two communities, but with little success.
Mayawati keeps away from pre-election formations of non-BJP parties also because her elected representatives often switch allegiance and go over to rival parties once the elections are over.
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This phenomenon is often seen in UP and other states where the BSP’s influence is marginal and the party could get only a few MLAs elected. But, overall, the party’s core remains intact because often only second or third rung leaders defect.
The alliance forged between the BSP and the SP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the SP and the Congress in 2017 Assembly elections did not work because of lack of social cohesion among the core vote blocks of the parties. The voters did not respond as the alliances were seen as “opportunistic”.
This time, the Opposition parties have an opportunity to come together by taking a principled stand and call for a ‘common or joint struggle’ in Parliament and also on the streets to ‘save democracy and highlight crony capitalism.’
Besides, the Opposition has been complaining about the government’s apathy towards real issues such as rising prices and growing unemployment. There are indications of Congress leadership realising these issues and, therefore, making moves to close Opposition ranks and bring Mayawati around.
One idea is fielding a single all-party-backed candidate against BJP or NDA in most, if not all, Lok Sabha constituencies. Thus, the Opposition is moving cautiously with a hope to swell its ranks and reverse the trend set by the BJP during the last two Lok Sabha elections.