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Will BSP be kingmaker in Punjab?

by | Mar 6, 2022 | Elections 2022

The popular opinion is that the BSP is not really in the fight in both Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. But will it spring a surprise?

Not before the Ides of March would the putative “will of the people” be revealed, at least in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, if some poll pundits are to be believed. The scenario being painted is one where Mayawati, supremo of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, would become the kingmaker. 

How so in Punjab? The BSP went to polls with an alliance with the Akali Dal. The BSP is contesting a mere 20 seats in Punjab, while the dominant partner is contesting 97 seats. But in the event of a hung assembly, even with a handful of seats the BSP hopes to emerge kingmaker in Punjab.

Back in 2012, the party contested as many 117 seats, but drew a blank. Similar results awaited the party in the 2017 elections as well, but this time contesting 111 seats.

How does that make the BSP’s prospects look brighter this time round?

Could it be the caste and political realignment that taken place over the past couple of years could help the apparently somnolent party?

The oft-cited calculus is of Punjab having a sizeable Dalit population. At 31.9% of the total population,  Dalits are a factor.  Even the Congress is hoping to overcome the gross political mismanagement and the anti-incumbency it is facing. The party has elevated Charanjit Singh Channi to the chief minister’s position in the hope that Dalits would vote en bloc for their man.

But the prospects of Ramdasia Sikh and Ravidasia (Chamar)  who account for 13.1%, Mazhabi Sikh 10%, Balmiki/Bhanghi 3.5%, Bazigar 1.05%, and others 4% all having similar political inclinations seems unlikely. The reason being Ravidasia Sikhs, to which Channi belongs, are a sizeable proportion of the Dalit community, but the electoral preferences of the sub-caste have been split between the SAD and the Congress over the years. With the SAD reconnecting with its old ally, the BSP, prospects of many Jatavs voting for the SAD is real. The AAP, which has been the recipient of the Dalit communities’ support in the last elections, is also hoping to retain some of that vote base, but by projecting a Jat Sikh as its chief ministerial candidate exploring a broader canvas this time.

How the final tally adds up will be known in a few days, but if the electoral prospects of avowedly Dalit-backed parties depend on such calculations, the moot point is how would it serve the community?

The grim fact of “The life expectancy differences of more than four years in Adivasis, three years in Dalits and one year among Muslims as against upper-caste Hindus,” only can lead to cynicism of this democratic process. Nevertheless, like Indrajit Roy has shown in the case of Uttar Pradesh, caste politics does not undermine development. Thus if the Dalit community in Punjab is confronted with the prospect of support a Panthic party which is in alliance with a Dalit party, an upstart party that considers service delivery as its USP or a ruling party mired in infighting but has a Dalit face as chief ministerial candidate, would Mayawati’s king making prospects be its best hope? 

Subhash Rai
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