In Maps And Graphs: What REALLY Happened To The BSP In 'UP 2022'
Which votes went from the BSP to whom, and what impact did that have on outcomes in Uttar Pradesh this time?
The Bahujan movement for Dalit emancipation first started to sweep across the Indo-Gangetic plains in the 1980s and ‘90s. First under Kanshi Ram, and then under his redoubtable protégé, Mayawati, its political manifestation, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), remained a significant electoral force in multiple states for some decades.
It tasted greatest success in Uttar Pradesh, where deft employment of the rank identity vote, via a calculated combination of the Muslim and Dalit communities, gifted it the state’s Chief Ministerial gaddi more than once.
But the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, plus recent ones in other states, show that the party is nearly finished. The revolution – and it was very much that, in elemental, Marxist terms – is over. The BSP is down to one solitary seat in UP, that profitable alliance with Muslims has ended, and its vote share has declined to 13 per cent.
From an analytical standpoint, then, what remains is an assessment of the manner in which the BSP’s traditional vote base pulled the rug from under it. Or in other words: which votes went from the BSP to whom, and what impact did that have on outcomes in Uttar Pradesh this time?
Specifically, we shall seek to define and quantify the extent to which the Muslims left the BSP for the Samajwadi Party alliance (SP+), the Dalit shift to the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance (BSP+), and the implications of those dynamics for the SP+ and BJP+.
In the run up to the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, many analysts expected the BSP to crumble to bits before the first vote was cast, or at least within the first few phases. But that didn’t happen. Instead, while the party did get squeezed in western and central UP, in a strongly bipolar contest between the SP+ and BJP+, the BSP actually recovered slightly towards the end of the elections, in eastern UP.
It didn’t amount to much for the BSP per se, since it won only one seat, but it did make for a number of messy multi-polar contests with breathlessly narrow margins of victory.
A map below shows the distribution of the BSP’s vote share by constituency in 2022:
Readers may note how the blues darken and cluster more prolifically in the eastern part of the state.
Looking at the same date by phase (the 2022 UP elections were conducted in seven phases from early February to early March), we see that the BSP’s average vote share dropped from 14 per cent to 10 per cent in the first five phases, before recovering to a relatively significant 17 per cent in the last phase.
This last phase, interestingly, is also the one in which the BJP+ registered its lowest average vote share, and where it fared the poorest, vis-à-vis the SP+. The inference is that the bulk shift of votes from the BSP to the SP+ (mainly the Muslim vote) was not offset by a similar shift towards the BJP.
Next is a table of average vote shares in 2022, and vote swings from the previous assembly elections of 2017, for the BSP, SP+ and BJP+ by phase:
The first observation is that the BSP suffered a debilitating vote erosion of around 10 per cent in all the phases. But for the late rally in the sixth and seventh phases, the BSP’s vote share in UP would have fallen into single digits.
Second, the SP+ gained handsomely from the BSP in all phases, except in the third. It also gained far more from the BSP than the BJP+ did. Indeed, but for the bulk shift of the identity vote to the SP+ in the first phase (11 per cent), the BJP+ would have won most of the 58 seats in this phase.
We have to be slightly careful here, because the SP+’s principal junior ally in 2022, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), had contested the 2017 elections on its own. So, an increase in the SP+’s vote share in 2022 includes the benefits of this alliance.
Nonetheless, since the RLD’s core areas are restricted to a few dozen seats in western UP, we can conclude that the bulk of the SP+’s gain in the state was from the BSP.
Third, the BJP+ not only polled its lowest average vote in the seventh phase, but it also incurred a marginal negative vote swing of -0.3 per cent as well. This, allied with the BSP’s slightly improved performance, is what permitted the SP+ to fare relatively better in eastern UP, and draw level with the BJP+ in wins for once (both alliances won 27 seats each in this phase, out of 54).
Fourth, while the BJP+ did register some gains in six phases, they average less than 3 per cent. It must also be noted that these gains are not just from the BSP, but also includes votes from the RLD, the Congress, others, new allies like the Nishad party, and even the SP+ in places.
Another way to figure out how the votes shifted away from the BSP, is to plot wins, vote shares and vote swings by tranche of vote swing. The questions asked here by this approach cover: what, for example, was the BSP’s vote share when its negative vote swing was -10 to -15 per cent, who did that benefit, and to what extent?
This is the BSP vote swing tranche table, and it is an important one:
First, we see that the SP+’s vote share went up as the BSP’s vote share declined. This is a clean indicator of clear vote transfer between the two entities.
Second, such a distinct, inverse correlation is not seen with respect to the BJP, except in one tranche.
Both points are highlighted in a chart below:
Readers may note how the green SP+ curve rises while the blue BSP curve falls. When the BSP is at 23 per cent, the SP+ is just a few points ahead at 29. But as the BSP’s vote share gradually dips to 8 per cent, the SP+ polls a robust 43 per cent.
At the same time, it is extremely interesting to note that the orange BJP curve hardly moves. For the most part, it fluctuates around the 43 per cent mark, seemingly not affected by what is happening between the BSP and SP+.
Two key points should be noted here:
One, in the 0-to-minus-5 per cent vote swing tranche, the BJP’s vote share does go up by two percentage points, from 42 to 44 per cent, when the BSP declines by 9 per cent from 23 to 14 (the SP+ goes up by 6 per cent from 29 to 35).
This is another clear, quantifiable indicator of vote movement from the BSP to the SP+ and the BJP+. Of the 73 seats in this tranche, the BJP+ won 53, and the SP+, 18. But, significantly, 50 of these 53 BJP+ wins are holds, most of which the BJP+ won in 2017 with an average vote share of 46.7 per cent. That means the gains in 2022 are only 3 seats.
Two, there is a distinct rise in the BJP+ vote share in the minus-15-to-minus-20 vote swing tranche. The BJP+ average vote share goes up from 44 to 47 per cent, while the SP+ registers a rare vote share decline from 38 to 36 per cent.
Of the 45 seats in this tranche, the BJP+ won 38, and the SP+ only 7. However, here again we see that 35 of the BJP+’s 38 wins are holds, which they won in 2017 with a very decent average vote share of 42.7 per cent. For comparison, the SP+ 2022 vote share in these 35 holds is just 34.7 per cent, which means that the net gains for the BJP+ are just 3 seats in spite of a three per cent vote gain from the BSP.
This vote swing data was then mapped, to gauge the geographical distribution of shifts.
Another very interesting analysis conducted was to see how many seats the BJP+ won with a positive swing of more than two per cent, when the BSP incurred a negative vote swing, and the BJP+’s victory margin was less than 15 per cent. There are 73 such seats, but again we see that 57 of these are BJP+ holds from 2017.
Keeping other parameters the same, when the victory margin limit is reduced to 10 per cent or less, the total number of such seats is 56, of which 41 are BJP+ holds from 2017. Once more, we see that the benefits are incremental, rather than exponential or radical.
Integrating all of the above workings, what are we to make of the BSP’s withering in the 2022 assembly elections?
The SP+ certainly gained, with the BSP’s Muslim base moving almost completely to the SP+ camp.
But what stands out is that the BJP+ vote share in 2022 stays roughly the same, irrespective of whether the BSP vote share declines, or the SP+ vote share goes up. This means that the BJP wins big in UP independent of SP+-BSP vote shifts; it is as if the BJP+ is insulated, or isolated, from these bilateral dynamics, because of the distinct, separate voter pool it draws a formidable mandate from, repeatedly.
This is an intriguing inference, because the logical conclusion then, is that the BSP has become electorally irrelevant to the BJP’s political fortunes.
What that means for the residual Jatav vote still with the BSP, only time, the RSS, or 2024 will tell, because any way you look at the data, it says that the Bahujan movement is over.
All data from Election Commission of India website
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