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BSP may upset Vidarbha caste equations

By Anand Bhisey in Nagpur
October 11, 2004 23:50 IST
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Having upset many an applecart in the last Lok Sabha elections, the Bahujan Samaj Party again threatens to do the same in the forthcoming Maharashtra assembly polls.

Like all parties, the BSP is concentrating on Vidarbha, which is going to be the key to power this time. The party has put up its candidates in all but two of the 66 assembly constituencies in the region, the exceptions being Sindkhed-Raja in Buldhana district and Achalpur in Amravati district.

The BSP is fighting the polls alone. The general perception is that the BSP may not be able to win too many seats on its own strength, but will cause a split in the votes of the backward classes. The backward classes have traditionally voted for the Congress or the Republican Party of India (RPI).

The BSP's power to split the votes was much in evidence during the Lok Sabha polls in May 2004, when its candidates garnered an unbelievably high number of votes. The votes polled by the BSP candidates were enough to ensure the defeat of the Congress-NCP combine's nominees at several places.

It is this ability to upset the caste calculations of the established parties and candidates that has made the BSP a force to reckon with in Maharashtra in general and Vidarbha in particular. Although the possibility of a split in the votes is a major worry for the Congress-NCP combine, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is also not feeling very comfortable at the prospect. This is because caste is a very vital, and sometimes the only, factor in several constituencies in Vidarbha, especially in the rural areas.

In fact, the Congress-NCP's campaign at several places is focused on countering the BSP's appeal rather than on the saffron combine's negative points. The BSP has adopted a well-planned strategy for the polls in Vidarbha. One, it gave tickets to candidates from almost every caste. In fact, even at a slight prodding, BSP leaders rattle off a long list of castes to which the party's candidates belong.

Secondly, the BSP has given `shelter' to the disgruntled elements from every other political party. It has been very generous on this count, with the result that the rebels from the Congress, the NCP, the BJP as well as the Shiv Sena are now in the BSP fold.

For example, the former mayor of Nagpur, Rajesh Tambe, crossed over from the Congress, businessman Ashok Goyal from the BJP, former corporator Kishore Parate from the Shiv Sena and former MLA Yadavrao Bhoyar from the NCP.

There are rumours that it is the BJP that is giving hidden support and encouragement to the BSP to spoil the chances of the Congress-NCP combine. Political observers point out that the BSP, which claims to be the saviour of the Dalits, has fielded several candidates who belong to castes that are not among the backward classes.

In any case, the BSP's elephant is sure to go on a rampage in Vidarbha once again.

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Anand Bhisey in Nagpur