In a setback for the opposition ahead of the presidential elections, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) announced on Saturday that it would back the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate and former governor of Jharkhand. Draupadhi Murmu who could become the first Adivasi person to hold the position. The party made the decision considering tribal votes not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in states such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh where it is trying to gain a foothold.
BSP Chairman Mayawati’s announcement bolsters Murmu’s already significant chances of winning against opposition consensus candidate and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha. Mayawati criticized opposition parties for not inviting the BSP to meetings on June 15 and 21 where the names of likely candidates were discussed before all parties agreed to nominate Sinha. “While the anti-BSP and caste attitude of the opposition continues, now the BSP is free to make a decision in any matter,” she said.
The BSP chief also claimed that the decision to support Murmu was taken not to favor the NDA. “With the party and its movement in mind, the decision was made to make a hardworking and skilled woman from a tribal community the president of the country,” she added.
The BSP has 10 MPs in Lok Sabha and will have a Rajya Sabha MP on July 18 when presidential elections are held. The BSP has one MP elected in the UP Vidhan Sabha. The party had six MPs in Rajasthan, but all joined Congress in 2019.
In Uttar Pradesh, voters from Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities make up a significant portion of the electorate in Assembly segments such as Obra, Duddhi and Robertsganj. For the party, the “Adivasi samaj” is an important element of its movement and its future electoral strategies.
A BSP official said the party was not going to gain anything by staying with the opposition in the presidential elections as these parties had ignored it and their past associations. The BSP contested the 2019 elections in Lok Sabha in Uttar Pradesh in alliance with the Samajwadi party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, but Mayawati broke the alliance a few days after the elections. In the Assembly elections earlier this year, the SP attacked the BSP, calling it the “B team” of the BJP.
Sources said that currently Mayawati herself is monitoring the organizational activities of the party in states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the party has had some success in the past. In Rajasthan, the nephew of the leader of the BSP and national coordinator of the party, Akash Anand, is frequently on tour to prepare for the elections. In Chhattisgarh the party won two seats in the 2018 state elections, while in Madhya Pradesh it won 5.11% of the vote but failed to win any constituencies.
“Winning seats and maintaining vote share in states outside the UP is essential for BSP to maintain its status as a national party and its prominence in national politics,” a party leader said. “By supporting Murmu, the BSP is trying to gain the trust of tribal voters in these states. Had the BSP supported the opposition candidate, it could have resulted in a loss of tribal votes to the BSP not only in other states but also in the UP. Moreover, it could have sent a message among the tribals that the BSP – whose foundation is another oppressed section, the Scheduled Castes – was against them. Other parties may take advantage of such a perception against the BSP.