The Bahujan Samaj Party and its supreme leader, five-term Chief Minister Mayawati, seem to be actively vacating ground in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh. Her Dalit voters, a major chunk of whom have already moved towards the BJP, are further gravitating towards the saffron party. Further, she has hand-picked candidates who are splitting and cutting votes mostly in order to help the BJP whose main opponent in UP is Samajwadi Party and Congress (INDIA bloc).

In Meerut Lok Sabha constituency for instance, the BSP, whose party symbol is the elephant, has fielded Devvrat Tyagi who is being assisted in his campaign by the controversial party leader Haji Yaqoob Qureishi, who was in jail till last year for declaring an award of ₹51 crore for beheading the Danish cartoonist who had caricatured Prophet Mohammad. He is campaigning for the BSP in Meerut and the prevalent view on the ground is that he will cut into the about five lakh Muslim votes which would have otherwise gone to the SP candidate Sunita Verma.

At a spare parts shop on Delhi road in Meerut, Shoaib, an SP supporter, said Haji Yaqoob’s campaign is designed to dent the SP. “He is hurting the SP here,” said Shoaib.

In neighbouring Ghaziabad, the BSP has fielded Nand Kishor Pundhir to tap into the Rajput anger which is threatening the BJP. The BJP has won from Ghaziabad by massive margins in consecutive elections. In this election, Rajputs are holding community gatherings across this constituency to challenge the BJP. To ensure that this vote does not get transferred to the INDIA bloc, which has fielded the Congress candidate Dolly Sharma, the BSP is promoting a Rajput.

According to Nagesh Tomar, who has previously worked with BJP’s Kisan Morcha in Ghaziabad, Mayawati has fielded a Thakur because she has a “tacit understanding” with the BJP. “Behenji is helping the BJP. Rajputs are angry and they can vote for the Congress this time. But she has fielded a Thakur to make sure that they do not go to the Congress,” he said.

BSP is similarly damaging the SP in Moradabad, Rampur, Amroha, Nagina, Saharnpur. In some seats, like Muzaffarnagar, it might damage the BJP slightly as Mayawati has fielded Dara Singh Prajapati. The Prajapati community has been voting for the BJP and the BSP’s candidate might cut into the BJP’s votes somewhat.

Dalits comprise about 20 per cent of the population in UP. In the 2014 polls, BSP got 20 per cent of the votes polled but failed to win a seat. In 2019, Mayawati aligned with the SP, getting 20 per cent of the vote and winning as many as ten seats. Yet, in 2024 she rejected the advances of the INDIA bloc for an alliance and chose to contest alone in UP. She is simultaneously losing her support base to the BJP in large chunks with Khatig, Valmiki and Pasi communities choosing to migrate to the BJP. What remains with her is her Jatav vote bank, her own caste. But Jatavs too are also slowly moving towards the BJP.

According to a BJP party functionary in Moradabad, a detailed study of the voter behaviour for the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in UP in 2022 showed that even Jatavs are moving towards the BJP.

At Akash Service Station in Madhuban Colony, Meerut, a handful of Jatavs confirm what the BJP has been saying. “We have no problems with the BJP. Behenji (Mayawati) is not winning. What will we gain from voting for her,” said Kripal Singh.

But not all Jatavs, who form a majority among the Dalits, and populate large swathes of western UP, will leave the BSP. At Kanshi Ram Colony in Meerut, there was a large bunch of them who had just returned from a rally by Mayawati. “She gave us a home. We will never leave her even if she loses everywhere,” said Surinder.

Mayawati’s vote share had fallen from 20 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to just 12 per cent in the 2022 Assembly elections and she managed to win only one seat in an Assembly of 403 seats. This time around, the BSP’s struggle to stay relevant seems to be coupled with the aim of damaging the SP-Congress alliance wherever she can.

It seems like the end of the road for the BSP whose raison d’etre is to keep Mayawati safe from the ghost of past corruption cases.

(With inputs from Dalip Singh)