Image of Mayawati used for representational purposes.

BSP-Cong Alliance Was Both Untenable and Irrelevant in State Polls


BSP supremo Mayawati’s decision to not have an alliance with the Congress for the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has caused much lamentation in the anti-Modi camp, which sees this as a big blow to prospects of defeating the BJP in these three states and in next year’s national polls.

Correspondingly, BJP spokespersons and cheerleaders are jubilant at the much-hyped mahagathbandhan among opposition parties collapsing well before the 2019 elections. However, there is good reason to believe why a BSP-Congress alliance for the coming state assembly polls was not only untenable on the ground but also matters little in determining their outcome and that of the larger electoral test next year.

It is surprising, indeed, that so many political pundits considered an alliance between the BSP and the Congress a game-changer for the coming state-assembly polls even though the support base of the former in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan has been in serious decline over the past few elections.

Consistent Decline in Vote-Share

A closer examination of electoral statistics clearly reveals the BSP slipping badly in the percentage of votes in seats contested. In Madhya Pradesh, the party has slumped from 10.61 percent in 2003 to 9.08 percent in 2008 to 6.42 percent in 2013.

(Infographic: Arnica Kala / The Quint)
(Infographic: Arnica Kala / The Quint)

In Chattisgarh the fall has been from 6.94 in 2003 to 6.12 in 2008 to 4.29 in 2013.

(Infographic: Arnica Kala / The Quint)
(Infographic: Arnica Kala / The Quint)

Rajasthan saw a decline from 6.40 in 2003 to 7.60 in 2008 to 3.48 in 2013.

(Infographic: Arnica Kala / The Quint)
(Infographic: Arnica Kala / The Quint)

Election Commission figures also show that even this shrinking presence of the BSP in the three states is confined to a limited number of constituencies. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh the party forfeited its deposit in as many as 182 out of the 228 seats it contested in 2008.

The figure went up to 194 out of the 227 seats it contested in 2013. The numbers are even worse in Chhattisgarh. In 2008, only seven out of the 90 candidates contesting in Chhattisgarh could save their deposits while in the next elections in 2013 the number went down to six.

Myth of Dalit Support

There is also a myth that the BSP has a stranglehold over the Dalit vote in these three states. This is disproved by the caste and community post-poll survey by the CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) done after the 2013 assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

In Madhya Pradesh, both the Congress with 33.1 percent and the BJP with 35.8 percent appeared to have more support among scheduled-caste voters than the BSP which had 22. 4 percent.

The support for the BSP is even lesser in Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. While in Chattisgarh only 11.5 percent Dalits said that they voted for BSP compared to 48.7 percent for the Congress, in Rajasthan just 19.5 percent Jatavs who comprise the core voter base of Mayawati expressed their preference for BSP. None among other scheduled castes expressed their preference for the party. The Congress, in comparison, did significantly better with 46 percent support from Jatavs and 44 percent from other scheduled castes.

Congress Is Better Off Without BSP

Despite the much publicized bonhomie between Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati, the ground level electoral dynamics in all the three states ultimately made it impossible for an alliance to be feasible. Sources close to the Dalit leader felt that she was skeptical about the ability of the Congress to transfer its own voter support to the BSP candidates. The BSP, thus, would not have benefited even if she brought down her demands of the number of seats for her party.

In fact, this is the same reason why she has over the past several decades reiterated that a pre-poll alliance with the Congress would work against her party’s interest. The Congress leaders from the three states privately corroborate Mayawati’s suspicions. They admit that it was unlikely that its voters would shift to BSP candidates and may well have turned to the BJP in these constituencies giving a clear edge to the latter.

As the CSDS 2013 post-poll survey shows, support for the BSP even among Dalits in the three states is significantly less than that of the Congress and there would be a fair degree of resistance from their own Dalit leaders to any major concession to the BSP candidates.

Sources close to the Congress also indicated that the party is hoping to poach on sections of the BJP’s upper caste Hindu base. These potential defectors are disillusioned with the latter particularly over the SC-ST Act amendment issue. In this scenario, a formal alliance with Mayawati could have been detrimental to Congress prospects in the state assembly polls.

Anti-Incumbency Real Determinant

It is becoming increasingly clear that the real determinant of the outcome of the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan is how much the anti-incumbency mood prevails in these three BJP-ruled states with the Congress poised to be the only beneficiary. An unworkable alliance with a shrinking BSP in these states merely on the plea of opposition unity may well have ended up in benefiting the BJP.

As for the 2019 elections, tangible caste and community alliances like the emerging Yadav-Jatav-Jat-Muslim combines in Uttar Pradesh, or a similar grouping being crafted in Bihar by the RJD, along with the possible revival of the Congress on its own in the coming state assembly polls pose a far more serious challenge to the Modi juggernaut than illusions of a rainbow coalition across the opposition without any link to ground realities.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)