With a strategy to win over Brahmin voters and repeat its electoral success of 2007, the Bahujan Samaj Party started its campaign for Uttar Pradesh’s assembly elections with a conference in Ayodhya addressed to the community, on 23 July. The event, titled the “Prabuddh Samaaj Goshthi”—or the Enlightened Class Conferences—began with the BSP’s national general secretary, Satish Chandra Mishra, chanting the Hindutva slogan “Jai Shri Ram” and promising to expedite the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Mishra, the BSP’s senior-most Brahmin leader, criticised Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s Thakur chief minister, in an effort to exploit an age-old clamour for power between the communities. While the BSP is confident that this strategy will not alienate its limited Muslim support, community leaders and political experts believe the move will cost the party.
Mayawati, the BSP chief, had announced a “Brahmin Sammelan”—Brahmin Conference—to the media on 18 July, stating that the campaign would continue from 23 to 29 July and kick off with the Ayodhya event. Mayawati claimed that the campaign led by Mishra would “awaken the Brahmin community once again.” She accused the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government of “harassing and exploiting the community” by using their support to win the 2017 elections and ignoring their welfare afterward. On 23 July, the event was held at a resort on the Lucknow-Ayodhya highway, and attended by several Brahmin community leaders and hundreds of BSP workers. Mishra’s presence marked the first visit by a BSP leader to Ayodhya, and the first time the party formally expressed its support for the construction of the Ram temple at the site of the historic Babri Masjid.
In 2007, the BSP had come to power in the state after winning 206 of the 403 constituencies and 30 percent of the total votes. That year, the party had fielded 86 Brahmin candidates, at least 40 of whom were elected, and 61 Muslim candidates, 29 of whom were elected. The party clearly seeks to repeat that strategy for the 2022 elections—yet, in the wake of the anti-Muslim violence and policies witnessed during the BJP governments at the centre and the state, Mayawati and the BSP are taking a political risk.
Mayawati said while announcing the event that she was confident that the Dalits voters of Uttar Pradesh, who comprise at least 20 percent of the state’s population, will largely remain with her party despite the successive debacles in the 2012 and 2017 assembly elections. In 2012, despite securing 25 percent of votes, the BSP’s seat share had dropped to 80, while the Samajwadi Party, which won a majority of the Muslim-dominated seats in that election, came to power with 224 seats and 29 percent votes. In 2017, the BJP came to power with a powerful 312 seats, and 39 percent of the votes, reportedly with the support of the upper caste, non-Jatav Dalit and non-Yadav Other Backward Class communities. That year, the BSP’s vote share dropped further to 22 percent and 19 seats. While the Jatav Dalits, who comprise around 54 percent of the state’s Dalit population and nine percent of the total population, have consistently voted for the BSP, Mayawati has not been able to retain the support of the other communities.
Brahmins have long been in the saffron camp, particularly so following the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the late 1980s for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. In 2017, the Brahmins overwhelmingly returned into its old shelter, the BJP. Of the 312 seats that the BJP won in the elections that year, as many as 58 of them were reportedly Brahmins.