On September 3, Mayawati announced she would not ally with the Congress in the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. “Congress always tries to defeat its partners rather than the BJP,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief claimed, explaining her decision. “They are getting arrogant and are under the misconception that they can defeat the BJP on their own, but the ground reality is that people haven’t forgiven the Congress party for their mistakes and corruption.”
What are the likely consequences? An analysis by Scroll.in shows the lack of an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party hurting the Congress party and, thereby, helping the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as well as in Chhattisgarh, where Mayawati had already allied with the Congress rebel Ajit Jogi. All three states are scheduled to go to polls by the end of the year.
It may appear unusual for the Bahujan Samaj Party to bargain hard when entering into an alliance. After all, the party has seen its electoral performances slump over the past few years. It failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 election and in the 2017 Assembly election in its home ground of Uttar Pradesh, the party won less than 5% of the seats. In the Rajasthan Assembly, the party currently has all of three seats. The number for Madhya Pradesh is four.
However, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s seat count does not reflect its strength as well as it does for other parties. This is down to the unique nature of the party’s politics. Like every political formation, the Bahujan Samaj Party aims to capture power, but given its focus on fighting caste injustice, the party often tries to contest a large number of seats in order to support local Dalits. In 2014, while the party drew a blank in the Lok Sabha, it paradoxically was the third most popular choice of the Indian voter, winning just over 4% of the votes polled. Add to this the perception that the Bahujan Samaja Party has strong control over its core voters and they would vote for whoever Mayawati tells them to. Hence, an alliance with Mayawati could have ended up being a valuable weapon for the Congress in its fight against the BJP.
In Madhya Pradesh, the advantage that would accrue if the Bahaujan Samaj Party and the Congress team up is apparent from the vote shares. In the 2008 Assembly election and the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the combined vote share of the two parties was more than the BJP’s. In the state polls of 2003 and 2013, the combined vote share was close to the BJP’s even though the Congress, on its own, lagged significantly.
In the 2014 parliamentary election, the “Modi wave” ensured the BJP outstripped the combined vote share of the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party by some distance. Whether 2018 would be a “wave election” remains to be seen, of course, but in the course of regular politics, it is clear the Bahujan Samaj Party significantly helps the Congress.
In 2013, there were as many as 43 seats where the BJP beat the Congress by margins less than the votes polled by the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The benefit to the Congress of allying with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Rajasthan is less apparent. But given that the Bharatiya Janata Party is seen to be unpopular in the state, a close contest could have seen the vote share of Mayawati’s party help push the Congress past the finishing line.
In the 2013 state election, there were 12 constituencies where the BJP beat Congress by a margin less than the votes received by the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Earlier in September, Mayawati had refused to ally with the Congress in Chhattisgarh, a move that could harm the Congress given the Bahujan Samaj Party’s strength in the state.
In each of the last three Assembly elections, the combined vote share of the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party outstripped the BJP’s even as, on its own, the grand old party lagged behind the saffron party.
Clearly, not allying with the Bahujan Samaj Party handicaps the Congress as it battles the BJP in each of these states. If this trend of not accommodating potential allies continues, the Congress will suffer in the 2019 general election as well, especially given that its recent record of taking on the BJP one on one is rather poor.