BSP expands influence but has a long way to go

December 11th, 2008 - 2:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 11 (IANS) After its spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is expanding its influence in northern and central India, data from the just ended state elections show.In what is being described as a creditable showing, the BSP has finally opened its account in Delhi’s 70-member assembly with the election of two of its candidates in the Nov 29 polls.

Similarly, the number of BSP legislators in Madhya Pradesh has risen from two in 2003 to seven. In Rajasthan, India’s largest state areawise, the BSP strength in the assembly has gone up from two in 2003 to six now.

In Chhattisgarh, the BSP has won two seats — the same as five years ago.

Everywhere, BSP leaders and election officials say, the party has increased its vote percentage, indicating a slow and steady growth of what has been called by many as India’s fastest growing political outfit.

This is good news for the BSP and its leader Mayawati, who last year stunned everyone by leading it to a single-party victory in Uttar Pradesh — a feat that had eluded all other parties for a long time.

Although the BSP was founded to promote the cause of the Dalits and it still counts them as its core support base, Mayawati — who does not hide her prime ministerial ambitions — has since begun to court all other social groups, including the Hindu upper castes she once openly despised.

In these elections, the BSP cornered a whopping 12 percent of votes in Delhi, stunning the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which have always viewed the capital as their fiefdom.

In Rajasthan, the BSP’s vote percentage leaped from 3.9 percent in 2003 to 7.8 percent now, in Madhya Pradesh from 7.26 percent to 11 percent and in Chhattisgarh from 4.45 percent to 6.11 percent this time.

In these four states, BSP candidates also finished second in as many as 33 constituencies — 10 in Rajasthan, 17 in Madhya Pradesh, one in Chhattisgarh and five in Delhi.

Congress and BJP politicians admit they are worried even though the BSP has no role to play in government formation in any of the four states.

“The results clearly indicate the BSP has widened its base in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Rajasthan,” BSP leader Swamy Prasad Maurya told IANS in Lucknow.

Most political analysts feel that if the BSP continues to grow at this rate, slowly but steadily, it is bound to become a major political player in northern and central India.

Sudha Pai, a professor of political science at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, however pointed out that the BSP has a long way to go before it can become a dominating factor in the region — barring Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state which it has ruled since May 2007.

Pai pointed out that the BSP has been able put up a good performance only in states where identity politics matter — and regions seen as an extension of Uttar Pradesh.

“Although the BSP’s base has expanded, it didn’t do as well as it was expected to in Delhi because issues of development were seen by voters as more important.”

“The BSP has a long way to go before becoming the deciding factor beyond the territorial boundaries of Uttar Pradesh,” Pai told IANS.

The victory of the Congress in Rajasthan is also seen by many as a clear sign that the bulk of Dalits remain with that party despite the BSP’s growing clout.

Other analysts pointed out that many BSP candidates won mainly because of their individual standing.

Congress and BJP leaders are taking the BSP threat seriously.

A BJP veteran told IANS that the assessment of his party was that the BSP would harm the Congress by weaning away Dalit votes in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. But the BSP ended up also taking away chunks of upper caste Hindu voters who may have otherwise chosen the BJP, he added.

One reason for this is the BSP’s decision to field a large number of non-Dalit candidates, including those from upper castes.

Congress general secretary M. Veerappa Moily told IANS: “This time we were concentrating more on the BJP. In future we will have to have a strategy to counter the BSP as well.”

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