The iron gates of the Bahujan Samaj Party office in Lucknow are firmly shut. Peeping through a side door, one can see the sprawling campus, completely deserted. The security men outside are busy watching songs on their mobile phones.
Asked about ‘Behenji’ (as Mayawati is known in her party), one of them says, “Dilli mein hai”.
Any other leader? “Yahan koi nahin hai (No one’s here),” he says nonchalantly.
His reply aptly sums up the state of affairs in the BSP that is now struggling for political survival in Uttar Pradesh, despite having a loyal vote bank.
The party has turned almost leaderless with Mayawati having expelled/suspended majority of the second-rung leaders.
The expulsion of two senior party MLAs Lalji Varma and Ram Achal Rajbhar, earlier this month, seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
The BSP’s strength in the state assembly has come down to seven from 19 — even less than the nine-member Apna Dal.
The party may soon lose its ‘national status’ that Mayawati so proudly flaunts, if the party continues to slide down.
The BSP has been whittling down since it was voted out of power in 2012. The party which had won 206 seats in 2007 by carrying out a successful formula of social engineering, was left with just 80 seats in 2012.
In the 2014, BSP did not win a single Lok Sabha seat and in 2017 UP assembly elections, it came down to a humiliating 19 seats.
Since 2007, when the party last formed the government in Uttar Pradesh, with 206 seats and a vote share of 30 per cent, its decline has been steady.
Its vote share was 25 per cent in 2012 and slid further down to 22 per cent in 2017. In 2019, BSP ended up with 19 per cent vote share.
In the past few months, the BSP has lost 11 legislators — all of whom were either suspended or expelled by Mayawati. These include former state president Ram Achal Rajbhar and leader of the BSP legislature party Lalji Varma.
A rebel BSP MLA said: “Mayawati needs to do a great deal of introspection. From having 206 MLAs in 207, the party is now left with seven. Those who built the party with their hard work are now out of the party.
“Leaders like Dr Sonelal Patel, Swami Prasad Maurya, Daddu Prasad, Om Prakash Rajbhar, Babu Singh Kushwaha, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Ramvir Upadhyaya, R.K. Chaudhary, Masood Ahmad, Brijesh Pathak and Chaudhary Laxmi Narain were made to exit the party which reflects poorly on Mayawati’s leadership.”
Late Kanshi Ram had carefully crafted the party’s base by promoting leaders of various sub-castes in the Bahujan Samaj Party.
To earn the confidence of the downtrodden, he took care to keep the ‘Manuwadis'(upper castes) away from the top ranks of the BSP.
His experiment worked wonders and the BSP registered a miraculous growth after 1993 when it formed its first government in alliance with Samajwadi Party in UP.
Today, a number of leaders who were shown the door by Mayawati, have set up their own political outfits that focus on their caste groups.
Sonelal Patel’s daughter, Anupriya, heads the Apna Dal that gains its strength from the Kurmi community. Om Prakash Rajbhar heads the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party that focuses on Rajbhar votes. Babu Singh Kushwaha has his own Jan Adhikar Manch that has a base among Maurya and Kushwaha communities.
A former BSP leader explained, “The problem with Mayawati is her complete disconnect with the party cadres. She is a queen, locked up in her ivory tower, and believes what she is told. No Dalit can even hope to meet her for an interaction.
“How can anyone run a party like this? Today, the face of Dalits has changed and they are now politically empowered.”
Another interesting fact that is often cited by former BSP men, is that despite being a Dalit-centric party, the BSP has no Dalit leader left, other than Mayawati.
“The number two position is held by Satish Chandra Mishra, who is a Brahmin, and also leads the party in Rajya Sabha.
“In Lok Sabha, our leader is Ritesh Pandey – also a Brahmin. Why would anyone support BSP as a Dalit-centric party now? The total alienation of Dalits from a party that has survived on Dalits is the biggest irony of BSP today,” said the former BSP leader.