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Why Did Mayawati Lose?

The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party suffered a defeat in the Uttar Pradesh elections because of the losses in its dalit vote base. Voters seem to have favoured parties on the basis of expectations of better governance and "returns" rather than on the basis of identity alone.


Why Did Mayawati Lose?

A K Verma

Pradesh. Earlier, Mayawati held this record in 2007 with the lowest winning vote share (30.4%). The SP did not succeed in “inclusive politics” this time too, it failed to increase its vote share among

The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party suffered a defeat in the Uttar Pradesh elections because of the losses in its dalit vote base. Voters seem to have favoured parties on the basis of expectations of better governance and “returns” rather than on the basis of identity alone.

This article is based on the author’s presentation “Analysing the Uttar Pradesh Elections 2012: People, Parties and Trends” at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore on 3 April 2012. The author is especially grateful to Robin Jeffery, Gyanesh Kudesia, Ronojoy Sen, all of NUS, for their critical comments and searching questions.

A K Verma ( teaches at Christ Church College, Kanpur.

he recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) aroused unprecedented interest and anxiety about its outcome that remained uncertain till its end. Besides the resounding victory of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and marginalisation of national parties, this election will be remembered for the failure of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to resolve the contradiction between means and end: the party’s much hyped social engineering as a means to achieving the end of inclusive politics by getting a legislative majority. Ironically, both Congress and SP are into the same “inclusive politics” mode, but they too have not been able to succeed on this count.

There were three major individual players: incumbent chief minister Mayawati (BSP), former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav of the SP, and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, besides other marginal players like Uma Bharati of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The Congress and the RLD had a pre-poll alliance. The people asked some crucial questions in the run-up to the elections. Would Mayawati manage to replicate her social engineering feat of 2007? Would SP succeed in retrieving its 46 seats that it lost without losing too many votes in 2007, and whether it would emulate the “inclusive politics model” of its rival BSP? Would Rahul Gandhi succeed to win votes from dalit sections for the Congress through his repeated forays into dalit hamlets, and maintain its record in the 2009 Lok Sabha (LS) elections? Would Uma Bharati succeed in revitalising the BJP and win more seats for her party?

Impressive Vote Share for the SP

The people gave a clear mandate (224/403 seats) to SP without an impressive vote share (29.1%) – the lowest since Independence with which any majority government was ever formed in Uttar certain caste groups in both 2007 and 2012, though the groups were not the same in these elections. The increase in its vote share was due to signifi cant accretions of votes from numerically dominant middle and lower castes (Kurmis +14, most backward classes (MBCs) +6, Jatavs +12, other SCs +6) (Table 1). The SP making inroads into Mayawati’s dalit constituency, especially Jatavs, is a big story this election. This is because it is believed that dalits and Yadavs can never come together to vote for the same political party as their economic interests clash – the Yadavs were predominantly landowners while dalits were landless and in many places Yadavs were seen as exploiting dalit labour. This was the reason why BSP’s Kansi Ram and SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav could not sustain their early alliance and the ambition of Kansi Ram for forming a homogeneous coalition of the backward classes in the form of All India Backward (SC, ST and OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) could not sustain itself in the long run.

Table 1: SP Vote Share in 2007 and 2012 Assembly Elections

Castes Assembly Elections 2007 Assembly Elections 2012
Vote Share Gain/Loss Vote Share Gain/Loss
over 2002 over 2007
Brahmin 10 +7 19 +9
Thakur 21 +12 26 +5
Vaishya 12 -5 12 00
Upper caste 17 +3 15 -2
Jat 11 +6 7 -4
Yadav 73 +1 66 -7
Kurmi 21 +12 35 +14
MBCs 20 -2 26 +6
Jatavs 3 +1 15 +12
Other SCs 13 -2 19 +6
Muslims 47 -7 39 -8

Source: Survey data, UP Assembly Election Studies 2007 and 2012, CSDS, Delhi.

Mulayam and Mayawati both claimed that Muslims had largely voted for the SP but that is not proved by the data available.1 The Muslim vote share for SP had been fluid: survey figures from 2007 showed that 47% voted for them, corresponding figures for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the current 2012 elections

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may 5, 2012 vol xlviI no 18


were 30% and 39%, respectively. Compared to the 2009 elections, Muslim support for SP was up by 9 percentage points, but compared to 2007, Muslim support was down by 8 percentage points. From the looks of it, the SP managed to retain its vote share among Muslims by arresting the trend of loss of support which was seen in the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009.

Decisive Defeat

The decisive defeat of BSP with the loss of 80 seats since 2007 and a drop in vote share by about 4.5% gives a picture of the failure of the “inclusive politics” strategy of its leader Mayawati. The BSP had lost seats and votes in every subregion of UP except for the western region where the losses to the party were far lower. In other words, only in western UP was Mayawati successful in garnering support from the Jat-Jatav sections that she had pinned hopes on (Table 2).

Table 2: BSP’s Performance in Different Subregions of Uttar Pradesh

Regions Total Seats Gain/ Vote % Gain/ Loss
Seats Won Loss Seat 2012 Vote %
2012 2007-12 2007-12
Ruhelkhand 52 11 -14 22.7 -4.4
party and government were Figure 1: Muslim Support for SP-BSP


displaced and felt threatened at the shrinking political space for them in the BSP. In the 60 parties, we find that Muslim support for SP was double the support for BSP in 2012 (BSP: 20, SP: 39) (Figure 1).

Mayawati, however, lost votes among the MBCs as well. This was attributed to the expulsion of Babu Singh Kushwaha, a MBC leader who was the minister of health and family welfare earlier in Mayawati’s cabinet, following his involvement in a National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) related scam. Kushwaha, the BSP’s “most backward” face since the days of Kanshi Ram was known for his organisational abilities and hold over large sections from the Kushwaha, Maurya, Pal, Shakya, welfare sphere as well, her government could not do enough

Assembly Lok Sabha Assembly elections 2007 elections 2009 elections 2012 17 47 18 30 20 39 Muslim vote share for BSP Muslim vote share for SP


for the dalit community. The Balmiki community – many of whom are engaged in jobs such


as scavenging and sanitation – felt betrayed by the govern


ment’s policies, such as those related to government recruitment for such jobs, of which 25% were provided to brahmins and other upper castes (who in turn outsourced to the Balmikis, paying them miserly sums). Survey results showed that the Balmiki community’s vote share for the BSP dropped 40% since 2007. In fact dalits from every class segment, irrespective of gender, age or attained levels of education, voted against the BSP (Table 4).

Table 3: BSP Vote Share in 2007 and 2012 Assembly Elections

Castes Assembly Elections 2007 Assembly Elections 2012
Vote Share Gain/Loss Vote Share Gain/Loss
over 2002 over 2007

Awadh 73 8 -24 25.7 -5.8 Brahmin 17 +11 19 +2 Saini and Kachi and other communities

East UP 81 13 -40 27.9 -5.1

Thakur 12 +7 14 +2 which constituted close to 9-10% of the

West UP 44 17 -6 29.2 -0.3

Vaishya 14 +11 15 +1 electorate. It was not a surprise that the Doab 73 15 -20 26.8 -4.4 Upper caste 15 +10 17 +2

drop in vote share among these commu-

Bundelkhand 19 7 -7 26.2 -7.0

Jat 13 +13 16 +3

nities for the BSP was about 9%.

East UP North 61 9 -15 22.7 -4.7

Yadav 8 +3 11 +3

Total 403 80 -126 25.9 -4.5

Source: Survey data, UP Assembly Election Studies 2007 and 2012, CSDS, Delhi.

However, a closer look at the caste profiles of the BSP voters (Table 3) provides a more nuanced reading. Mayawati’s social engineering project in order to

Kurmi 16 +6 19 +3

MBCs 28 +9 19 -9

Jatav/Chamar 85 +6 62 -23

Muslims 17 +7 20 +3

Source: CSDS Data Unit, UP Assembly Election Studies 2007 and 2012.

Table 4: Category-wise Dalits Who Voted BSP

The National Parties’ Performance

The Congress had pinned its hopes on the popularity of its party general secretary and Amethi Member of Parliament, Rahul Gandhi. He had visited various regions – Bundelkhand in particular

win votes was not a complete failure – Dalit Category 2007 2012 Change very early – and raised a lot of farmer
the BSP still registered accretions in vote Dalit men 79 56 -23 related issues in places like Bhatta and
share in almost all social groups except Dalit women 80 48 -32 Parsaul since 2007 and had also tried to
for the most backwards (a drop of 15%) and her core dalit base among the Jatavs (a drop of 23%). Considering these two BalmikiCollege educated dalits Young dalits (18-25 years) Urban dalits 70 75 81 75 30 41 42 41 -40 -34 -39 -34 win support from dalits by staying in their hamlets. His party conducted a spirited campaign in the run-up to the
groups were numerically large, the drop Source: UP Assembly Election St udies 200 7 and 2012, elections involving him centrally and it
in vote shares affected the party drasti- CSDS Data Unit, Delhi. must be said that while the Congress’
cally. Yet the party managed to win sup- Mayawati had exp licitly comp lained defeat did show him up, he was not fully
port from the “add on” sections such as that her loss was attribu ted to the Muslims’ to blame for the extent of its defeat.
the upper castes. shift in their allegian ces aw ay from her In fact, there was an undercurrent in
Why did her core base desert Mayawati party. This charge ca n be p roved to be favour of Congress which is proved by
even as upper castes voted for her party? wrong as there has b een n o decline in two facts; one, in spite of the overall
Mayawati’s social engineering brought Muslim support for th e party (2007 17%, defeat, the party still managed to enlarge
more brahmins, upper castes and Muslims 2009 18%, 2012 20% ). How ever, when its vote share in all subregions of UP
into the party fold even as dalit elites in we compare Muslim support across (Table 5) and registered vote accretions
18 m ay 5, 2012 vol xlviI no 18 Economic & Political Weekly


in almost all caste groups as compared to 2007 (Table 6: column 5). Actually, the Congress had already shown such increases in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections itself (Table 6: col 3). Since then the party has come into the reckoning once again in UP politics and Rahul Gandhi has become almost a household name even in rural UP.

Table 5: Congress Performance in Different Subregions of UP (2012)

Regions Total Seats Gain/ Vote Gain/ Loss Seats Won Loss Seat % Vote % 2007-12 2007-12

Ruhelkhand 52 2 +1 10.7 +2.2

Awadh 73 4 -4 14.1 +2.6

East UP 81 4 +3 8.1 +2.4

West UP 44 5 +4 14.4 +6.8

Doab 73 2 -1 9.4 +1.5

Bundelkhand 19 4 +1 18.6 +5.3

East UP north 61 7 +2 12.2 +3.2

Total 403 28 +6 11.6 +3.0

Source: ECI Data, CSDS Data Unit, Delhi.

Table 6: Congress Vote Share in 2007 and 2012 Assembly and 2009 LS Elections

Castes Assembly Lok Sabha Assembly Gain/Loss Gain/Loss
Elections 2007 Elections 2009 Elections 2012 2007 -12 2009-12
Vote % Vote % Vote % (+/-) (+/-)
1 2 3 4 5 6
Brahmin 19 32 (+13) 13 -6 -19
Thakur 9 16 (+7) 13 +4 -3
Vaishya 10 18 (+8) 21 +11 +3
Upper caste 12 31 (+19) 13 +1 -18
Jat 2 13 (+11) 11 +9 -2
Yadav 4 11 (+7) 4 00 -7
Kurmi 6 28 (+22) 13 +7 -15
MBCs 8 17 (+9) 12 +4 -5
Jatavs 2 4 (+2) 5 +3 +1
Other SCs 5 16 (+11) 14 +9 -2
STs 1 24 (+23) 14 +13 -10
Muslims 14 25 (+11) 18 +4 -7
Total 8.6 18 .4 11.6 +3 -6.8

Source: CSDS Data Unit, UP Assembly Election Studies 2007, 2012, and

Lok Sabha Elections 2009.

Yet, the party could not substantially capitalise on the increase in support in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 due to irrational allocation of tickets, and poor organisational presence. Various sections among the dalits, for example, showed an inclination to vote for the Congress, but poor candidate choice put them off. In fact, reports suggest that dalits shifted their support to the SP instead of voting for the Congress in various places. That was true of other castes too. The Congress’ loss suggest that the era of winning elections through the cosmetic interventions by charismatic persona and the machinations of the

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may 5, 2012 vol xlviI no 18

national party’s high command is over, and that also signals a maturing of electorate in UP.

The Congress folly of attracting Muslims through the politics of quotas also proved to be disastrous as it had the undesired impact of communalising the issue of reservations. Muslims thought that they will have to compete with other minorities – Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, etc, in the 4.5% quota for jobs and admissions in educational institutions, while Other Backward Cla sses (OBCs) thought that Congress was trying to reduce their share from 27% to 22.5% in reservations. Thus, Congress suffered a double loss in potential votes; it failed to attract Muslims; it also annoyed OBCs who had voted in big numbers for the party in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. The Congress vote share in 2012

was down by 7 percentage points among Muslims and subs tantially in OBCs (Jats -2%, Yadavs -7%, Kurmis -15%, mbcs v -5%).

The BJP performed poorly losing both seats (-4) and votes (a drop of 1.97% since 2007). Its maximum losses were in the Doab (from Fatehpur to Aligarh). It did better in Bundelkhand where it won three seats and its vote share was up by 5.7 percentage points may be because of the local infl uence of Uma Bharati who led the party at the hustings. However, it also proves that

such cosmetic tactics as importing leaders from outside may not work now in Indian politics.

The BJP voters’ social profile does not look impressive; the party lost support in almost all sections of the society, though registering very small accretions in support among Yadavs (+4), Jatavs (+2) and Muslims (+4) (Table 7). A vote share of 7% among Muslims, according to the CSDS survey, shows that there is a possibility of rapprochement between the party and the minorities in the future.

This election is a pointer to a few trends in UP politics. One, it is signalling

Table 7: BJP’S Vote Share in 2007 and 2012 Assembly Elections

Assembly Assembly Gain/loss Elections (2007) Elections (2012)

Castes Vote Share Vote Share +/-

Brahmin 43 38 -5

Thakur 46 29 -17

Vaishya 49 42 -7

Upper caste 40 17 -23

Jat 23 7 -16

Yadav 5 9 +4

Kurmi 36 20 -16

MBCs 18 17 -1

Jatav/Chamar 3 5 +2

Muslims 3 7 +4

Source: UP Assembly Election Studies 2007 and 2012, CSDS Data Unit, Delhi .

the end of the era of fractured mandate that plagued the state since 1989, and the formation of governments by parties with clear majorities. Mayawati got an absolute majority in 2007, and Akhilesh Yadav had emulated her as he became the youngest chief minister of UP this time in 2012. The state is moving away from exclusionary caste politics relatively – a trend that started in 2007 and parties are seemingly willing to forgo a kind of politics that fragmented the electorate, warranted post-poll coalitions, and resulted in non-performing unstable governments. The UP voter is moving away from a “marriage model” of voting behaviour to a “share market model” which means that voters are no more wedded to a party and are willing to vote for a party that may provide them greater returns. The Yadavs voting against the SP and the Jatavs voting against the BSP exemplifies this. We also see a tactical shift in Muslim voting behaviour; earlier it was BJP centric “negative vote” as they voted a party that could defeat the BJP. Now Muslims seem to exercise their franchise with a positive orientation to elect the party they perceive will act best in their interests. And, finally, there appears to be a transition from caste to class in the determination of voter support. Though this determination seems to be in a early stage, the coalescing of subalterns, cutting across party affiliations is very much in the offi ng.


1 Based on figures, there seem to be a good correlation between the CSDS survey fi gures and the actual vote shares won by various parties.

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