Way before Mayawati announced all but outright support to the BJP on Thursday, her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been gearing up to play a remarkably chunky role in the high-stakes by-election in Madhya Pradesh, where it has had little success in recent polls.
The by-elections to 28 seats will decide whether Shivraj Singh Chauhan will retain the hot seat in Madhya Pradesh but parties like the BSP and rival Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) may play an outsized part in the outcome.
For the first time, the BSP – whose chief Mayawati on Thursday made waves by saying she would rather vote for the BJP than for foe-turned-friend-turned-foe Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh – is contesting all seats in the by-election.
The SP too has put up candidates for 14 of the 28 seats that will vote on November 3.
In Datia’s Bhander seat, Mahendra Singh Bodh, earlier with the Congress, has now crossed over to the BSP.
A veteran of the Congress who started politics as a foot soldier for Sanjay Gandhi, Mahendra Bodh said the Congress is destroying its own roots by not keeping its voter base of scheduled castes happy.
Mahendra Bodh said he was denied a ticket six times before crossing over to the BSP for this election.
He will take on Phool Singh Baraiya who was earlier with the BSP and is now in the Congress.
Phool Singh Baraiya said he joined the BSP when Kanshi Ram formed the party but he quit the BSP two decades ago when he felt the party was drifting from its ideology under Mayawati.
But there is no denying the BSP is a player in this region. At about 22 per cent of the population, analysts say the Bahujan Samaj impacts about 12 seats in the Gwalior Chambal belt.
“This is a region where Dalit politics dominate. The SC voter traditionally was with the Congress but now regional satraps are finishing off this voter base of the Congress so what does the SC voter do? He can’t always join the BJP so the BSP is an option,” said Mahendra Bodh.
But Congress candidate Phool Singh Baraiya said the real reason for the surge of the BSP is actually the BJP which is quietly pushing and supporting BSP candidates in this election so they can hurt the Congress.
“They think that by making the BSP stand against us, the Congress will lose, but Phool Singh Baraiya is ready for the fight,” he said.
But the BSP and SP candidates are a real worry for bigger political parties. In an audio conversation that has now gone viral, Digvijaya Singh can be heard trying to get the SP candidate Roshan Mirza from Gwalior to withdraw.
“Why are you fighting this election?” one can hear Mr Singh telling Mr Mirza. “You want to help the BJP win? Please withdraw,” he added.
But a defiant Digvijaya Singh said there was nothing wrong in “some sound political management” and admitted he had reached out to Roshan Mirza and it was his voice in the audio that is doing the rounds on social media.
“Yes, I said. So what if somebody is going to be fighting and damaging the Congress and if he was a former Congressman, then it’s my responsibility to see to it,” Digvijaya Singh told NDTV in Malwa during Thursday’s election campaign.
Even the BJP is not too shy of such political manoeuvres. In the Ambah Seat of Morena, the BJP got the SP candidate Banshilal to join the party and campaign in favour of their candidate Kamlesh Jatav on Monday.