By Pradip Bhandari
Social scientists and political commentators, plying their trade in the era of caste-driven politics of the 1990s, commonly hold that Mayawati is the sole and principal representative of the Dalit political identity; she ushered caste and identity politics to the centre stage of mainstream political narrative. Whenever Mayawati’s politics has been analysed, it has been assumed that she comes with a voter base comprising of all the sub-castes and categories within the Scheduled Castes (SC). This continued until early 2008. In a media interaction in 2006, on being asked who her successor in the party will be, she announced that a Jatav SC would succeed her whenever she decided to step down. This was an inflection point, after which non-Jatav SCs gradually drifted away from voting only for BSP to also choosing national parties. Mayawati, however, still had the votes of Jatav SCs, a community to which she, too, belongs. Yet, a new trend—the division of Jatav SC votes, and their movement towards Narendra Modi’s BJP— began to emerge in 2014, and has consolidated further in 2019.
We look at vote shares and the recent results in indicator seats in Uttar Pradesh to provide reasonable evidence for this unprecedented trend. Apart from the following case studies, it must be noted the Mahagathbandhan fell short of the combined SP-BSP vote share of 2014 in more than 50 seats.
Fatehpur Sikri in Agra has, on an average, 18% Jatav SCs. While in 2009, BSP’s Seema Upadhyay polled 30% of the vote share, she polled only 26% in 2014, resulting in BJP winning the seat with a margin of 1.78 lakh votes. In 2019, it was widely believed that the SP-BSP Gathbandhan on this seat would poll 48% of the vote share, as per the 2014 standard, defeating the BJP. However, SP-BSP together polled 16%, while BJP increased its vote share to 64%, an impossible feat in a Jatav SC-dominated constituency, unless BSP suffered a major Jatav vote depreciation. BSP had won this seat in 2007.
Agra, in Western UP, is a Lok Sabha constituency with 22% Jatav SCs. In 2009, BSP gathered a vote share of 30%,in 2014 26% individually and in 2019 38% along with SP. The SP had polled it’s historical low of 13% in 2014. BJP on the other hand increased its vote share from 54% in 2014 to 56% in 2019. This constituency also has 5% Muslims, and Khushwaha which majorly prefer Gathbandhan in this constituency. A 38% to 39% vote to the Gathbandhan in 2019 indicates an incomplete transfer of 22% Jatav votes to BSP. ( SP-13% historical lowest + 5% Muslims Kushwaha +18% Jatav +2% Others = 38% Gathbandhan vote—signaling a division of 22% to 27% Jatav SC vote to BJP). Even our ground reports pointed at welfare benefits for Jatav SCs’ division—“Mayawati ne humein kya diya hai?”
Basti is a seat in Ayodhya region which was a BSP base in 2009. BSP had a vote share of 34%, SP 21%, BJP 15% and INC 12%. In 2014, BJP increased its vote share to 34%, BSP decreased to 27%, SP increased by 9% and INC was reduced to 2%. BJP continued its forward march in 2019 with a vote share of 45% (11% increment since 2014), whereas SP-BSP combined could only poll 41%, which is 16% less than the simple addition of their 2014 vote shares. Since INC increased its vote shares to 8% in 2019, a transfer of INC votes to either BJP or Gathbandhan could not happen. In this scenario, Basti, having 18% Jatav SCs and 12-14% Kurmis, could have only been won by the Gathbandhan if all Jatav votes transferred to BSP. BSP has a base vote of around 3% Kurmis (assuming the rest of the Kurmis go with BJP, and acandidate fighting from the same constituency has 3% pull) and 12% Muslims, while SP’s lowest vote in this constituency has been 21%. For the Gathbandhan to get 41% combined vote share, the best-case scenario is of 4-6% Jatav SC vote going to it. Even in this scenario, there is over 50% Jatav SC drift from BSP towards BJP.
Our ground report was full of testimonies of Jatav SCs, especially women, claiming that “Mayawati ne humein kya diya hai, Modi ne hume chullah diya hai”. Ujjawala and Awas were big differentiators in this region. Kaushambi (Allahabad region) has 25% Jatav SCs and 37% Scs, and was considered a bastion of SP pre-2014. When Mayawati was the CM in 2009, BSP polled 34% and SP 44%. In 2014, BSP’s vote share fell by 12%, while SP’s decreased by 13%.
If we add the base vote of 2014, the Gathbandhan should have polled 54% in 2019, against the 35% it actually polled. In this seat, apart from Raja Bhaiya’s Jansatta Party cuting 16% base vote of SP (Raja Bhaiya left Samajwadi Party after 2014 due to differences with Akhilesh Yadav and formed his own party), the BSP was unsuccessful in transferring the 25% Jatav SC vote to SP. Apart from large portions of non-Jatav SC, many Jatav SCs also chose BJP as their first preference over SP, considering the direct welfare benefits experienced under the Modi government. Due to BSP’s inability to transfer its votes to SP, BJP won the seat.
Apart from the constituencies where Jatav SCs chose BJP over the Gathbandhan, BSP’s vote share also decreased with every passing election. Despite the Gathbandhan, and a stronger Muslim vote proclivity towards it than in 2014, BSP could not make any difference in its vote share tally. By blaming SP, BSP is trying to create a chimera. Truth is BSP no longer holds the Jatav SC vote like in the past—the loss of the Gathbandhan in 2019 has solidified this trend.
The author is Founder, Jan Ki Baat