It came as no surprise when Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati expelled senior leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui from the party on Wednesday. There had been enough indication of late that he no longer had her approval. In the wake of the party’s dismal performance in the February-March Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where it won just 19 of 403 seats, Siddiqui was stripped of his charge of party affairs in western Uttar Pradesh – where he allegedly had a free hand in ticket distribution – and Uttarakhand and given responsibility of less significant Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The Bahujan Samaj Party accused Siddiqui of anti-party activities and of accepting money from party members and candidates. The Rajya Sabha MP hit back by accusing Mayawati of doing the same. She, in turn, said Siddiqui had manipulated party membership funds.

This is not the first, and perhaps not the last, exit of a prominent leader from the party. The trend has continued since 1990, when founder Kanshi Ram’s close aide Rajbahadur and Jang Bahadur were expelled. Jang Bahadur went on to form the Bahujan Samaj Dal and Rajbahadur floated the Bahujan Samaj Party (R) – both no longer exist. The following years gave rise to the perception that those who left the Bahujan Samaj Party had no political future. This persisted till 2015. But a string of exits around that time changed that belief forever. Some of the leaders who left – Swami Prasad Maurya, Brijesh Pathak, Dara Singh Chauhan, SP Singh Baghel – are now all ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party government that came to power in the state in March.

One will have to wait and see what the future holds for Siddiqui, but it is clear that the Bahujan Samaj Party has lost the tag of being a party with a brand that holds more value than its leaders.

Reasons for expulsion

There are said to be many reasons for Siddiqui’s expulsion. First, the Bahujan Samaj Party failed to capitalise on the Dalit-Muslim votebank in the elections despite giving tickets to close to 100 Muslim candidates. In fact, this had the reverse effect with Dalits – the party’s primary support base – deserting it as they felt neglected. The party, thus, wanted to shed its pro-Muslim image and Siddiqui, its Muslim face, was the casualty.

Second, his alleged links with meat traders were seen as problematic – especially with the Adityanath-led BJP state government cracking down on illegal meat shops and slaughterhouses. He was reported to have partnered with party colleague Haji Shabban (who left the party with him) to run a slaughterhouse – a charge Siddiqui has denied.

Third, Siddiqui was virtually number two in the Bahujan Samaj Party hierarchy. Apart from being its national general secretary and Muslim face, he controlled the Bahujan Volunteer Force, managed all of Mayawati’s rallies, and his words were taken as her orders. But in April, Mayawati appointed her brother Anand Gautam as party national vice-president. Since Anand was now second-in-command, Siddiqui had to vacate the spot.

Fourth, Satish Chandra Mishra – considered the architect of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s social engineering formula that helped it get an absolute majority in the 2007 elections with a Dalit-Brahmin combination – had not been getting the same importance as Siddiqui before this year’s polls. After the results, it became clear that the axe would fall on Siddiqui while Mishra would get his due.

Mishra is a senior lawyer and well versed with legal issues. Siddiqui, on the other hand, has faced some legal troubles – yet another reason that have have led to his expulsion from the party. One such problem came in the shape of the BJP government’s inquiry into the sale of sugar mills to private parties allegedly at throwaway prices during the Bahujan Samaj Party’s last tenure. With Mayawati claiming that Siddiqui headed the sugarcane department at the time of the sales, he may find himself at the centre of the investigation.

Then there was the controversy over BJP leader Dayashankar Singh’s use of inappropriate language against Mayawati – he reportedly compared her to a prostitute. At a protest in Lucknow led by Siddiqui in July, Bahujan Samaj Party members allegedly retaliated with objectionable comments against Singh’s 12-year-old daughter. A police case was registered against Mayawati and Siddiqui among others. While the BJP took action against its leader, it condemned the regional party’s response. Later, it appointed Singh’s wife Swati Singh as the state chief of its women’s cell. She is now a minister in the state government. The investigation against the Bahujan Samaj Party is still on and Siddiqui may be called for questioning.

BJP women's wing members protest against Naseemuddin Siddiqui for his party workers' comments against BJP leader Dayashankar Singh's minor daughter. (Credit: PTI)

In addition, there were the allegations that Siddiqui had accepted money from party cadre and candidates. Before his expulsion, senior party leaders and some bureaucrats reportedly spoke with Mayawati about the alleged mismanagement of party funds by Siddiqui.

What next for the BSP

With Siddiqui’s expulsion, it is now clear the Bahujan Samaj Party has decided to tone down its pursuit of Muslim voters. The action against Siddiqui has led to resentment in the community. “It is nothing new for BSP,” said Syed Asif Raza Jafri, an Urdu journalist. “During her [Mayawati’s] first tenure as chief minister, she sacked minister Dr Masood from the party. After every election, she shifts the blame upon Muslims for her defeat. Siddiqui also met the same fate.”

Feroze Waziri, who owns a carpet export unit in Uttar Pradesh, said Mayawati had never tried to cultivate leaders. “She always preferred money over leaders,” he said. “The result is obvious. Muslims are an easy scapegoat.”

Maulana Yasoob Abbas, secretary of the All India Shia Personal Law Board, claimed Muslims were victims of use-and-throw politics. “Unless Muslims realise their power and unite, they will be treated the same.”

The Bahujan Samaj Party also seems to have realised, with the resurgence of the BJP in the state, that it is no longer feasible to play the Muslim card. Many of its leaders, including a Rajya Sabha MP, admitted as much.

“It is not the case of the BSP alone,” pointed out Shafi Azmi, former member of the State Minorities Commission. “In every party, Muslim leaders are being sidelined. All parties are shifting to the Hindu card. So, Muslims should introspect about their position in politics.”

For now, the Bahujan Samaj Party seems to be planning to go back to the Dalit-Brahmin combination that paid it a rich dividend in 2007. The first hint of this came from Mayawati on Thursday when she praised party colleague and Brahmin leader Satish Chandra Mishra’s family for their loyalty to her.

The Brahmins are still a political force, though they may not match other communitiues in numbers. In the Hindi belt, a single Brahmin family is known to influence the voting pattern of an entire village. And they are known to support a political party as a whole. Earlier, they were with the Congress before shifting their allegiance to the BJP and then the Bahujan Samaj Party and now, back again to the saffron party. During the tenure of the previous Samajwadi Party regime, its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav had remarked, “I know that they [Brahmins] may not vote for me but still, I give them high regard. They influence others and the voting pattern.”

The Bahujan Samaj Party is counting on Mishra to rally the Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh. It does not expect the community to abandon the BJP overnight but hopes to convey to the community that they can expect to get their dues from it. Forming this connect is vital with district-level elections coming up later this year.