The BSP chief has come into a softer avatar and her alliance with the SP is shaking things up in the state.
If you Google “June 2, 1995, Guest House Case” thousands of pages throw up details of the infamous episode of Indian history in Lucknow which exposed the unruly side of Uttar Pradesh politics. Angry members of the then ruling outfit, the Samajwadi Party, physically attacked the woman leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party in the state guesthouse because she pulled out support midway from their coalition government.
That woman was Mayawati, then the general secretary of the BSP, an outfit founded by her mentor Kanshiram. Her rescue by a BJP leader after nine hours of “house arrest”—which changed her psyche forever—is described in detail in Ajay Bose’s book Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati.
Since that episode, the two parties remained bitter foes until 2018 when their informal alliance trounced the BJP in the parliamentary by-polls in Gorakhpur (vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath) and Phulpur (Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya). The bonhomie was possible because of the change of guard on the other side: from Mulayam Singh Yadav to his son Akhilesh Yadav.
Rise and fall
The guesthouse incident turned out to be a launchpad for Mayawati’s career. “A miracle of democracy,” said the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao when she became the CM of India’s most populous and politically significant state with the BJP’s support—within 24 hours of that incident. This was unthinkable in caste- and patriarchy-ridden India.
With three short stints and one full term as CM (2007 to 2012), she gradually emerged as the tallest Dalit leader in India, something the BJP never anticipated.
But things that go up must also come down. Political commentator Shailendra Singh says, “Her downfall started somewhere around 2010 due to failed social engineering, installation of [her] own statues and arrogance. In 2014 general polls, the BSP failed to win a single seat.”
New, more confident avatar
Several rounds of telephonic talks with Akhilesh Yadav over the last year led to Mayawati’s decision to ally with him on equal terms (38-38 seats), setting aside over two decades of rivalry. Akhilesh said they met once on January 4 and the deal was done.
Mayawati’s new avatar is more realistic, mature and accommodative than before. Mayawati 2.0 is more confident as well. However, she continues to nurture her long-cherished dream of becoming India’s PM. Political commentator Surendra Jondhale says, “She has left the taint of CBI cases behind and appears firm that she can’t be blackmailed by the CBI or ED anymore. This will raise her stature and acceptability both.”
Mayawati is candid with three “nephews” by her side—Akhilesh Yadav, Tejashvi Yadav and Akash, the son of her brother whom she wants to induct in the BSP. She’s possibly more comfortable with younger leaders compared to the seniors. Analyst Ramesh Dixit says, “Young leaders give her due respect which their fathers couldn’t, mainly due to feudal mindsets. Besides, they don’t pose a threat to Maya’s personal ambition.”
But political analyst Shivsharan Geharwar doesn’t see any change in Mayawati’s attitude or politics. “Mayawati hasn’t changed a bit. Look how she defended Akash. This alliance of castes is forged due to political compulsions.”
Sixty-two-year-old Mayawati’s politics are centred around the rights of Dalits and the creation of coalitions that would enable the acquisition of power, says Geharwar.
There is hardly any connect between her politics and the welfare of Dalits. Yet, she has one of the most loyal vote banks in Indian politics. Apart from Dalits, she also hopes to get the support of OBCs and Muslims—the main support base of the SP. Akhilesh needs the opposite. Perhaps they expect that coming together will help them transfer their votes to each other, on seats where they were runners-up—nearly 65 seats.
Will the alliance able to defeat BJP?
Mayawati describes this alliance as “historic”—one that will give sleepless nights to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. It’s come at a time when the BJP is losing ground nationally. It lost three states apart from a dozen parliamentary by-polls and several allies such as the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir, the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, the Assam Gan Parishad in Assam and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party in Bihar.
UP, which has the maximum seats and from where the BJP derives its strength, poses a major challenge for the BJP. Besides poor law and order under the Yogi government, cow vigilantism and destruction of the cow economy is worrying farmers, minorities, meat exporters and leather industries. These glaring issues kickstarted the consolidation of the opposition in UP a year ago, culminating in their victory in three by-polls. The alliance hopes the momentum will continue. Observers say the SP-BSP alliance will cut the BJP’s existing tally to half.
In the previous parliamentary elections, where the fight was quadrangular, the SP had won just 5 seats, the Congress 2 while the BSP and RLD drew a blank. The BJP and its allies had scored a whopping 71+2 in the Modi wave.
An SP leader said: “Despite drubbing, the SP and BSP had polled 42.1 per cent votes (SP 22.3 per cent, BSP 19.8 per cent) while the BJP’s share was 42.6 per cent. In most seats, the BJP’s winning candidates polled fewer votes compared to our combined votes. We can easily win all these constituencies.”
Mathematics versus seats
But electoral politics is not as simple as arithmetic. Dalits and OBCs constitute about 20 per cent and 40 per cent of the state population respectively. Anil Tiwari, the editor of a Lucknow-based news portal, says, “The biggest question is whether the SP’s votes get transferred to BSP candidates, just as BSP votes helped SP in Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls. Another challenge is whether the alliance can get back the non-Yadavs and non-Jatavs who largely voted for the BJP in 2014.”
There is no clarity about minority votes (20 per cent) which was fragmented in 2014. “The impact of the Congress is also unclear though it is expected to damage the BJP by denting its upper caste base (20 per cent), especially Brahmins,” says Shailendra Singh.
The alliance is expected to do well in western UP accounting for over 30 Lok Sabha seats, mostly dominated by Dalit-Muslims. It also has a sizeable presence in Awadh (16 seats) and Bundelkhand (4 seats) regions. It has limited scope in eastern UP (30 seats).
To tackle the opposition, the BJP has come up with the 10 per cent quota for the poor and massive caste outreach. It is expected to roll out pension schemes for farmers apart from other sops in the upcoming budget.
However, observers are sceptical over the translation of the alliance on the ground due to the prolonged animosity between the two caste-based outfits. “There are major social contradictions that lie between Dalits and OBCs. OBCs are mainly a landed community and Dalits work in their fields. Many Dalits families are now better off due to reservation benefits, while farmers have become poorer over the years due to mounting farm losses and loans,” says Jondhale.
Moreover, the Dalit community is not homogenous. Many of the 65 sub-castes don’t rally behind Mayawati anymore. So only time will tell where this will lead.