Mayawati – Eyes on 2019, Feet on the Ground

From sticking to the 'grand alliance' in UP to bagging a minister in Karnataka, the BSP supremo has moved towards her goal of being the fulcrum of opposition unity ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Her status as the primary rival of BJP, too, has become stronger.

Lucknow: India has never had a Dalit Prime Minister. In 2009, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati seriously considered herself as a prime ministerial candidate – an aspiration backed by her senior party member and advisor, Satish Chandra Mishra. The possibility of a hung parliament in 2009 had made Mayawati feel that she could emerge as a strong candidate for the top job. But then she fared badly in the elections and all her efforts went in vain.

Things were not favourable thereafter for Mayawati, who is addressed as Behenji (sister) by her supporters. She lost power in Uttar Pradesh and had to face a series of electoral setbacks. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she drew a blank, followed by a further decline in her strength in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. Political reports from Lucknow suggested that her Dalit vote bank had deserted her  with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) making inroads among Dalits. Even Western UP’s Bhim Army was being tipped as a challenge to Mayawati.

But unpredictable as she is, Mayawati has now turned the tables amidst adverse conditions – zero representation in Lok Sabha, she having resigned from the Rajya Sabha, and a large section of her flock having deserted her in the recent past. In the past few months, her senior colleagues have ditched her  – Naseemuddin Siddiqui has joined the Congress, while Indrajeet Saroj has joined the Samajwadi Party (SP). Yet, an undeterred Mayawati went ahead and gave a green signal to a proposed alliance against BJP, which included the SP.

Meanwhile, the BJP, firmly in the saddle both at the Centre and UP, ensured the victory of its ninth candidate in Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, denying BSP its only possible chance of getting into the Upper House. First, the BJP decimated the united opposition by making inroads into their votes. Second, it presumed that the proposed ‘grand alliance’ will die its own death because of multiple ego tussles among the opposition leaders.

A poster is seen with BSP supremo Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, celebrating their win in Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypoll elections, outside SP office in Lucknow. Credit: PTI

A poster is seen with BSP supremo Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, celebrating their win in Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypoll elections, outside SP office in Lucknow. Credit: PTI

After the defeat of BSP’s candidate Bhim Rao Ambedkar in Rajya Sabha, it was expected that Mayawati would pull out of her alliance with SP. However, contrary to expectations, she set off on her political course in a more seasoned manner. The BJP may be comfortably in power both in New Delhi and Lucknow, but the efforts to cobble up a grand opposition alliance has sent jitters down the rank and file of the world’s largest party, the BJP.

In the current context, the absolute majority of BJP appears superficial in Lucknow, and it is Mayawati who is regarded as the top-most leader in the state.

Dalit writer and thinker Kanwal Bharti terms this development as positive. “This was the only way out. She has to now openly oppose the BJP. It was getting late. There was apprehension that her party may break, as senior leaders were leaving. It will be good if she maintains her tough posture against BJP,” Bharti told The Wire.

Pitching Mayawati as the main opposition leader

The show began with the announcement of by-polls for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats which fell vacant due to the resignation of chief minister Adityanath and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, respectively. A win or a loss in these two seats virtually would have had no effect on the BJP. But the party’s invincibility tag was at stake. Mayawati stuck to BSP’s line that the party would not contest the by-polls. However, she made her confrontational intention clear by entering into a pact with SP. However, there was apprehension about the tie-up, as acrimony between both the parties was very much alive. The memory of the infamous guest house incident in 1995 where Mayawati was targeted by the SP was refreshed. Several stories on bitter differences between Mayawati and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav appeared in the media. But Mayawati held her fort, and the result was predictable. She did not venture out, she did not issue any formal statement, she did not have a word with party workers, but her intention was conveyed to the office- bearers and was disseminated to ground level. The net result, SP won both the seats.

The by-poll results saw an unprecedented scene in Lucknow. When Akhilesh Yadav arrived at Mayawati’s residence in a Mercedes to greet her, it was for the first time in 25 years that SP’s president and BSP’s supremo were meeting. What went inside was not made public, but it was reported that Akhilesh Yadav thanked her for the support, assured his support for the alliance, offered her a shawl and was greeted with a bouquet.

The bua-bhatija (aunt and nephew) relationship, which was until then mentioned only sarcastically in Lucknow, turned serious overnight. A new slogan was coined—Bua ka desh, Bhateejey ka Pradesh. 

A supporter of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) waves a flag featuring the party’s chief Mayawati during an election campaign rally. Reuters Files/Pawan Kumar

The political mood in the state suddenly tilted towards the opposition. The BJP had no valid reason to defend itself. SP workers rejoiced, Akhilesh Yadav became more vocal and SP leaders began counting days to usurp BJP’s mantle. But the real gainer from all this was Mayawati— she had established that “you cannot win without me.”

However, within a month came the Rajya Sabha biennial polls and the BJP fielded nine candidates, while BSP fielded Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The arithmetic was simple. BSP needed the extra votes of SP, Congress and Rashtriya Lok Dal to win a seat. But, the equation, which looked perfect in a drawing room, was upset by BJP’s quick manoeuvring to engineer defections and the BSP candidate lost. Given the mercurial nature of Mayawati, many political reporters in Lucknow jumped to write the obituary of the proposed grand alliance. But the 45-minute press conference of Mayawati on March 24, turned the tables again. She did not mince words in attacking the the BJP. And although the BSP leader termed Akhilesh Yadav as “immature in politics”, she reiterated that the alliance against BJP would continue. She also cleared the air that the guest house incident of 1995 would not come in way of  the SP-BSP relationship, as Akhilesh Yadav was not in politics at that time. She emphasised that the alliance would only emerge stronger in the face of adversities.

At that time, Akhilesh Yadav was at his residence and was concerned about the future of the alliance. As the news flashed, it was reported that he heaved a sigh of relief. Opposition parties took note of each word by Mayawati. RLD, whose lone MLA had cross-voted for BJP, was expelled from the leadership even if it meant that RLD would lose representation in the Assembly. The Congress, too,  said that the grand old party would back BSP. And once again, it was established that Mayawati would call the shots in UP, and others would follow.

With the picture getting clearer now, Akhilesh Yadav openly said that he would not hesitate from sacrificing his party’s interest for the BSP. Within a month, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who had lost the RS poll, was nominated as a legislative council member with SP’s support. It is said that the SP leader took this decision on his own and had confided only in a few loyalists soon after Mayawati’s press conference. “It was a hard decision, as numerically SP did not have much of an option. We had to drop Rajendra Choudhary, who is chief spokesperson for the party and also Akhilesh’ s Man Friday. But it was a positive gesture,” claimed Vinod Yadav, a political analyst who has worked on SP since its inception.

“There are little options left for both SP and BSP. If they contest separately, both will be routed. United, they stand a chance of defeating the BJP. This is not only a political alliance, but a social alliance of OBC, Muslims and Dalits against BJP,” Vinod Yadav added.

Aspirations Beyond UP

After having emerged on top in her home state, the Karnataka Assembly elections gave Mayawati yet another opportunity to project her national stature. Both SP and BSP had little stake in the Southern state. SP has had a few successes in the past in Karnataka. It won the Shivamogga parliamentary seat in 2005 and the Channapatna seat in 2013, but these were more of individual victories. This year, BSP struck an alliance with Janata Dal (Secular) and contested the polls, while SP fielded its own candidates. BSP won one seat while SP, on expected lines, drew a blank. After the post-poll drama in Karnataka, the JD(S) formed the government with Congress support and BSP’s MLA, N Mahesh, took oath as a minister – the first time a BSP MLA has been sworn in as minister in any other state outside UP.

H.D. Kumaraswamy greets BSP supremo Mayawati at her residence. Credit: PTI/Atul Yadav

Before the swearing-in ceremony of H.D Kumaraswamy, photographs flashed across the media reaffirmed Mayawati’s position as an anchor in opposition brigade. Her sharing a lighter moment with Sonia Gandhi, having a word with Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, and other opposition leaders making a beeline to meet her, indicated her arrival on the broader political canvas.

Not only that, most regional parties in other states, and even Congress, now prefer BSP as an ally. In Haryana, the party has already forged an alliance with the Indian National Lok Dal, while talks are on with Congress in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh. These developments have cemented Mayawati’s significance again. At present, she is the only leader from UP who is most sought after in other states.

In the Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur Assembly by-elections in UP, Mayawati again restrained from any direct involvement. But, the victories of RLD in Kairana and SP in Noorpur established her position as a kingmaker.

Mature Decisions
Besides political manoeuvring, Mayawati has also shown her ability to corner the BJP. The recent issue of vacating the official bungalow which she held as former UP chief minister exhibited her political prowess. Before vacating, she invited mediapersons and showed them every nook and corner of the bungalow, which she referred to as the Kanshi Ram Memorial. Even the fountains were functioning when she left. On the contrary, Akhilesh Yadav landed in a soup as stories of him leaving the bungalow in a heavily damaged condition did the rounds, leading to governor Ram Naik ordering a probe.

It is assumed that the SP and BSP would share 35 seats each for the 2019 parliamentary polls and leave the remaining 10 seats in the state for the Congress and RLD. However, now Akhilesh Yadav has announced that he is ready to be content with a lower number of seats for the sake of opposition unity. He has also stated that his workers should now mingle with BSP workers as the alliance has been sealed by him at higher level.

In the past few months, Mayawati has undoubtedly moved towards her goal of being the fulcrum of opposition unity. Her status as the primary rival of BJP has become stronger.

SP, on the other hand, is still ambiguous about certain issues, especially when it comes to addressing the concerns of Muslims, who form a major chunk of its support base. Akhilesh Yadav has been facing the wrath of the community for not uttering a word in favour of Dr Kafeel Khan’s brother Kashif Jameel, who was shot in Gorakhpur. However, Mayawati openly condemned the incident. With Mayawati shifting gears, politics in UP is set to witness one of the most interesting periods as the opposition and the BJP look to outwit one another.

Mohammad Faisal is a freelance journalist.