The rise of Hindutva has shrunk the political space for regional outfits, forcing the two stalwarts to come together once again.
“Today, respected Mayawatiji has come to Mainpuri to seek votes for me. This is a great moment for all of us. I welcome her wholeheartedly. All of you must give her full respect.”
When Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav said these words, the Bahujan Samaj Party chief flaunted a beaming smile and clapped as she looked at him. Mulayam was addressing a huge crowd in Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, on Friday, while Mayawati shared the stage with him.
April 19, 2019, will probably go down as the second-most remembered date in Uttar Pradesh political history, with Mulayam (79) and Mayawati (63)—two former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh—burying their 24-year-old personal hatred and political animosity after the shocking events of June 2, 1995.
The two stalwarts arrived in different helicopters and then proceeded towards the Christian College grounds where a huge, well-decorated and air-cooled pandal and stage were waiting for them. Climbing onstage, they greeted each other and proceeded to sit side-by-side. Mulayam’s son and former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav, who stitched the BSP-SP alliance in January with the RLD joining them later, was also on stage.
Mayawati returned the favour in more than equal measure. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a fake backward who obtained the OBC certificate by misusing his power as Gujarat chief minister. Shri Mulayam Singh Yadavji is the real backwards leader who belongs to this community by birth. Don’t get fooled by the fake leaders. Send Mulayam Singh Yadavji to the Parliament with a historical margin. He will serve you till his last breath like a real sevak, not a fake sevak like PM Modi.”
Her accusations towards the prime minister aside, Mayawati’s endorsement of Mulayam is perhaps the best one she’s ever given to another candidate. The crowd cheered many times during her address. She also referred to the “June 2, 1995” incident in her speech, admitting that “national and party considerations” forced her to forgo personal rivalry.
This historical moment was witnessed by their respective supporters in the constituency from where Mulayam, the patriarch of the Samajwadi Party, is trying his luck for the fifth time. Mainpuri has been the bastion of the Yadav family since 1996. Mulayam himself won the seat four times, including during the 2014 polls. He retained the Azamgarh seat and left Mainpuri, which was later won by his nephew Taj Pratap Singh Yadav in a bypoll.
“This was the most awaited event in UP’s politics. This will together decimate the BJP across the state,” said an ecstatic Sushil Yadav, principal of a city college and an SP supporter.
Mayawati’s cadre seemed flattered with the kind of respect showered on her by SP leaders. Akhilesh Kumari, a booth head of the BSP, said, “The way Mulayamji respected our leader and urged his supporters to do the same was touching. This fills our heart with pride.”
The rise of Hindutva outfits in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere has increasingly shrunk the political space for regional outfits over the last few years, forcing the two stalwarts to join hands again. They are set to address more joint rallies in the state over the next few days.
Praveen Saxena, a senior journalist in the city, said, “Mainpuri has never seen such a grand event preparation, [preparations] were on since April 14.” In Mainpuri, the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Prem Singh Shakya, who couldn’t win even during 2014’s Modi wave. The Congress, as per tradition, has not fielded anyone.
Saxena says, “This indicates how safe Mulayam is here.”
The incidents of June 2, 1995
The “June 2, 1995, Guesthouse Case” is an infamous episode of Indian politics which exposed the unruly and filthy side of Uttar Pradesh politics to the world. The angry members of the then governing SP physically attacked Mayawati in the state guesthouse in Lucknow because she pulled out support midway from their coalition government midway, leading to a split in the SP.
Mayawati, then the general secretary of the BSP, was rescued by a BJP leader after nine hours of “house arrest”. Over 150 cases were registered against Mulayam, including an attempt to murder.
This case turned out to be a launching pad for Mayawati’s career. She became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh within hours. With three short stints and one full term as CM (2007 to 2012), she gradually emerged as the tallest Dalit leader in India, something which the BJP never anticipated. Her failed social engineering led to her downfall and SP returned to power again, from 2012-2017.
Equal partners in 2019
In the ongoing general elections, the SP and BSP are contesting in 37 and 38 parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh—which has a whopping 80 seats out of 543. Five seats have been left aside: three for their ally, the RLD, and Rae Bareli and Amethi for the Congress, which is currently held by Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Their alliance has ensured a triangular contest in Uttar Pradesh, restricting the division of votes which could upset the BJP’s vote arithmetic in India’s most politically significant state. A quadrangular fight in 2014 had helped the NDA win 73 seats in Uttar Pradesh, about a quarter of its total tally.
The BSP wields considerable influence among Dalits while the SP has a strong base among OBCs and Muslims. Together, this constitutes about 85 percent of the state’s electorate. Both outfits had together won 42-45 seats out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 and previous elections, contesting separately.
In 2014, the BJP along with Apna Dal swept 73 out of 80 seats. The SP could win only five seats (now seven) and the BSP none. But the combined vote share of SP and BSP in the 2014 general elections—which they contested alone—was about 42.12 per cent. This is at par with the BJP-Apna Dal’s 42.6 per cent. The Congress won only two seats with 7.5 per cent vote share.
However, a micro-analysis reveals the SP and BSP had polled more votes than the BJP in 41 constituencies. If the Congress and RLD are also taken into account, the vote share of the four Opposition parties was higher than the BJP on 58 seats.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, the SP-BSP’s combined vote share was 46 per cent. The BJP won a whopping 312 out of 403 seats, and it’s vote share was 39.7 per cent.
But post 2014, the BJP and Prime Minister Modi’s popularity has been on a gradual decline. The increasing urban and rural unemployment, slowdown in economy, and poor farm returns are making voters restless. Now the question is whether the Opposition, especially the alliance, will be able to cash in on this anger.
The SP-BSP-RLD chiefs believe they will be able to transfer respective votes to each other on the seats where they were runners up—almost 65 such seats. As far as voters’ assessment of the BJP is concerned, the BJP has lost all three key Lok Sabha bypolls in the state in the past one-and-a-half years, ever since Yogi Adityanath took over. This includes Adityanath’s own seat (Gorakhpur), Kairana, and Phulpur, which is also the seat of his deputy CM Keshav Prasad Verma.
As political commentator Ramesh Dixit speculates: “The SP and BSP have maintained their core vote bank over the years. They can limit the BJP to 25 seats in Uttar Pradesh.”