The Bahujan Samaj Party affected the outcome in half of Vidarbha's 66 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly elections. There were 32 seats in which the BSP's votes were higher than the margin of victory between the top contenders. In 24 seats, it authored the defeat of one or the other of the main fronts. In 13 of these, it torpedoed the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance. In over 11, it sank the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine.

The BSP got over 8.60 lakh votes in Vidarbha in these polls. It secured just around five lakh votes in the Lok Sabha elections from the same region in May. It also raised its vote share in Vidarbha from just under seven per cent then to over 9.5 per cent this time. There was a dramatic difference though. In the Lok Sabha polls, it devastated the Congress-NCP. This time, several of its candidates, especially those from the `upper castes,' also wrecked the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in many places.

Further, the huge rise in voting in this region stopped the party from making an even greater impact. Sonia Gandhi's ability to draw voters in Vidarbha seems to have strengthened after she turned down the Prime Minister's post. A lot of the additional voters went the Congress way. So she appears to have bailed the Congress out of big trouble. The promise of free power may have helped, but it cut no ice in the cotton belt where the Congress did very badly.

The BJP-Shiv Sena had no counterweight to Ms. Gandhi in this region. Neither a Vajpayee nor a Thackeray made it here. And their demoralisation after the Lok Sabha defeat meant their front was unable to ride on major issues such as rural distress and farmers' suicides. (State-wide, the BSP took over 1.6 million votes to close in on nearly 4 per cent of the total. In the Lok Sabha polls, it had touched just about a million.)

Even where the BSP came fourth, it played spoiler in several seats, getting more than the margin of votes separating the two main fronts.
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The BSP's main impact was in Vidarbha. In seats such as Savner, it not only came third but destroyed both the BJP and the Congress. Indeed, it relegated Congress to the fourth place here, while the 18,000 votes it took helped an NCP rebel win. The BSP came third in most constituencies and had the best vote share after the two main fronts. In Bhandara, it crossed 30 per cent to take 40,000 votes. In all, it gained over 20,000 votes in 14 seats and between 10,000-20,000 in another 27 seats.

In several seats, the BSP got more votes than all the Republican Party of India factions and other smaller parties combined. It was only in Akola, stronghold of Prakash Ambedkar's Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), and in Buldhana that the BSP tide was halted. In all the six Assembly seats falling within the Akola Lok Sabha constituency, the BBM outscored the BSP. But the result was that the BBM itself could win only one of those six seats.

Yet even where the BSP came fourth, it played spoiler in several seats, getting more than the margin of votes separating the two main fronts. In some cases, even the rebels would not have had a decisive impact but for the presence of BSP candidates in the fray.

For instance, in Chimur, the Shiv Sena beat the Congress by just 803 votes. The `rebel' here did sabotage the Congress. But had the BSP not taken away nearly 15,000 votes, the Congress would still have won comfortably.

Likewise, in Digras, it came fourth, but helped beat both the Shiv Sena and the `official' NCP candidate. Its vote was three times the margin by which the Shiv Sena lost this seat to an independent.

The BSP brought grief to the Shiv Sena and the BJP in Badnera, Nagpur East, Nagpur South, Bhandara and Tirora. It also sank them in Gondiya, Adyar, Sakoli, Armori, Digras and Savner. In many of these places it came third after the Congress-NCP. But its candidates here, a few of them from the more dominant castes, wrecked the Shiv Sena-BJP.

The votes the BSP took away tripped the Congress-NCP in seats such as Malkapur, Chkhili, Melghat, Walgaon, Goregaon and Amgaon. The party also destroyed the chances of the alliance in Gadchiroli, Rajura, Saoli, Teosa, Kelapur and Tumsar.

Ultimately, the Congress won 20 seats and the NCP 10. The BJP 20 and the Shiv Sena 10. The STBP, a BJP ally, got one. The BBM got one. Four rebels too, won. (Two from the NCP, one from the Congress and one from the Shiv Sena.)

Both in Vidarbha and Statewide, the different factions of the RPI seem to have taken a pounding in the Assembly elections. The BBM is down to just one seat from three the last time. The RPI (Athavle) has got just one. That too, the seat of don Pappu Kalani. The RPI (Gavai) and the RPI (Kawade) have been savaged. Like them, the BSP won no seats, but its performance in vote share leaves all these groups far behind. It has done very well even in Adivasi seats such as Sironcha (ST), where it got close to 35,000 votes, and Armori (ST), where it touched nearly 30,000. It has won no seats, but its impact has been more profound than so far acknowledged. (Courtesy: The Hindu)