During the 2000s, the major electoral divide in Uttar Pradesh was between the BSP and SP as both the major national parties, the Congress and BJP, were in decline. But with the BJP’s declaration of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and its attempts to revive its Hindutva agenda under Amit Shah, and with the recent Muzaffarnagar riots, the nature of the contest has changed. The BJP is now a major contestant in the state. Fourteen seats in central UP and Bundelkhand went to polls on April 30. The BJP, which managed one seat in this region in 2009, is depending on Modi’s popular image and promises of development to win votes here. The BSP, which got three of the seats, counts on uniting the Dalits and mobilising Muslim support by promising to keep the BJP at bay. Although the SP won four seats, the voters are disillusioned with it. The Congress, with six seats from 2009, is not poised to do well. In this leg of the electoral contest, at least, the competition seemed to be between the BSP and the BJP.
The BSP faces some significant challenges in this electoral contest. Mayawati forged the strategy of “sarvjan” in the mid-2000s, based on Kanshi Ram’s notion of “bhagidari”, or representation to social groups supporting the BSP in accordance with their strength. While the strategy brought the party to power in 2007, it encountered serious problems once the BSP was in office: unhappiness among Dalits over benefits given to the upper castes, the inability to fulfil the aspirations of all sections of Dalits and the dilution of Dalit identity.
Once in power in 2007, the BSP attempted to implement an inclusive agenda of development for all backward social groups and regions instead of Dalit-oriented policies, as in the past. But as the party had come to power on its own after many years of struggle, Dalits expected that their needs would be given priority, instead of those of the upper castes. Consequently, Mayawati found that balancing aspirations and ensuring equal distribution of resources between upper and lower castes, and between Dalit sub-castes, was very difficult. Powerful sub-castes, such as the Jatavs, who formed the core of the party felt that they had not gained, as Mayawati attempted to fulfil the desires of the upper castes that had helped vote her into power. Simultaneously, smaller groups like the Valmikis, Basors Dhanuks,