BSP will emerge as kingmaker in M.P. bypolls: State party chief

‘Atrocities against Dalits, custodial deaths among key campaign issues’

Madhya Pradesh Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Ramakant Pippal has exuded confidence that the party would pose a tough fight to the BJP and the Congress in the forthcoming by-election and emerge as kingmaker.

“Voters have lost faith in both the parties,” Mr. Pippal told The Hindu. “While they voted out the BJP in 2018 as it didn’t keep its promises over the years, the Congress betrayed their mandate as they couldn’t keep their flock together and defections brought down the government.”

In 2018, the BSP secured two seats in the Vidhan Sabha and supported the Congress to form the government along with four independent MLAs and the lone Samajwadi Party legislator. When asked which way the party will swing this time, Mr. Pippal claimed, “We will hold the key to the government. Behenji (BSP president Mayawati) will take a call later.” While the BJP requires nine seats to retain government, the Congress needs to bag all the seats to return to power single-handedly.

To canvass for candidates on the 28 seats, nine reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and two for Scheduled Tribe candidates, the BSP will raise the issues of continuing atrocities against Dalits, including the Hathras case, custodial deaths in the State, plight of migrant workers in the Gwalior-Chambal region during the lockdown and inability of the Congress to implement 27% Other Backward Classes reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, which has been challenged in court.

The Congress also hadn’t kept its promise of dropping cases against Dalit youth for reportedly taking part in the April 2018 protests against the Supreme Court order on the atrocities Act, Mr. Pippal claimed.

This time, two former Congress leaders are contesting on a BSP ticket in the Gwalior-Chambal region. Congress sources said former State Congress Scheduled Castes wing president Mahendra Boddh was likely to be a strong contender against Congressman Phool Singh Baraiya, a former BSP leader, on the Bhander seat.

The BSP enjoyed support in the Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh, especially among Jatavs, said Yatindra Singh Sisodia, director, Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain. “The party has a committed vote of 2.5-12% which favours it irrespective of the candidate,” he said.

The conservative idea that the BSP’s strong performance caused the Congress damage wasn’t applicable to Madhya Pradesh anymore, he said. “Dalits don’t just vote for the BSP or the Congress. The BJP, through social engineering, has been able to secure a sizeable non-Jatav vote over the years.” According to the CSDS-Madhya Pradesh Post-Poll Survey 2018, the BJP enjoyed the support of 25% SC voters, the Congress 48% and the BSP 19%.

Still, the BSP vote share has declined over the years in Madhya Pradesh, from 7.26% in 2003 to 5.07% in 2018. In the previous election, the party registered its strongest presence in Chambal, securing 13.08% of the vote on 35 seats. Most voters in the 26-35 years age group, at 28%, across the State supported the BSP in the 2018 election, according to the survey.

‘Dalits with Congress’

Dismissing the BSP role in the by-election, Congress media in-charge for the Gwalior-Chambal region K.K. Mishra said Dalits would favour the Congress for the pro-poor policies of the erstwhile Kamal Nath government. “We have kept the election promise of waiving crop loans of farmers, including those from the SCs,” he said.

Meanwhile, BJP spokesman Pankaj Chaturvedi said Rajya Sabha M.P. Jyotiraditya Scindia and his supporters enjoyed considerable support among the Dalits. “If at all, BSP’s strong presence will damage the Congress,” he claimed.

The by-elections were necessitated after 25 Congress MLAs, 19 pledging support to Mr. Scindia, joined the BJP, while three seats fell vacant after deaths of sitting MLAs.

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