Mayawati's Statements Present Another Stumbling Block for Opposition Unity

Mayawati. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: In what appears to be yet another roadblock for opposition unity ahead of  the 2019 parliamentary polls, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati has said that her party is ready to go solo if it is not offered a respectable number of seats. Seat sharing between the BSP, the Samajwadi Party (SP), Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has remained a bone of contention ever since these political parties agreed to form a ‘grand alliance’ to defeat the BJP in the general elections.

Speaking in Lucknow on Sunday, she said, “I will be compelled to go it alone, if the BSP does not get a respectable number of seats in the anti-BJP alliance that is shaping up before 2019 Lok Sabha polls.” However, she asserted, “Our party is not against the alliance, but our stand is very clear: that we will ally with a political party only if we get a respectable share of seats. Otherwise, our party feels it is better to contest the elections alone.”

She did not mention what a “respectable” figure would be out of the 80 parliamentary constituencies up for grabs in Uttar Pradesh.

According to BSP insiders, the party has been demanding at least 40 of these for its own candidates, which means that the remaining half will have to be shared by the SP, Congress and RLD. Since the SP is the single largest party among the four, it will also want to have a substantial number of seats, leaving hardly any room for the Congress and RLD – influential only in select pockets of the state – to manoeuvre.

Lack of consensus among the four parties regarding a seat-sharing formula is the reason they had maintained a tactful silence over the issue, although their leaders have spoken about the need to join hands at multiple platforms over the last year.

With Mayawati now placing the issue on the record, it seems that whatever preliminary explorations have happened between the parties have not gone particularly well.

Observers in Lucknow also believe that Mayawati, by asserting herself in the alliance, is trying to placate her party leaders, many of whom are uncomfortable allying with traditional rival SP, showing signs of rebellion. The BSP has also been facing a crisis over the past few years as many of its district and block-level leaders, especially from non-Jatav Dalit communities which had swayed towards the BJP in the assembly elections, have deserted the party to join the BJP. To keep her flock together ahead of the general elections, Mayawati seems to be sending a message of confidence to her cadre.

Snubs Chandrashekhar Azad

This is also reflected in her snubbing of Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, who was recently released after more than a year in prison due to the UP government slapping the draconian National Security Act on him.

After his release, Azad sent a positive gesture towards Mayawati by calling her “bua” (aunt), while adding the two have the “same blood”.

Chandrashekhar Azad after his release. Credit: Munish Kumar

Asked about this on Sunday, Mayawati retorted by saying she had no association with the Bhim Army leader. Hitting out at him, she said that Azad was unnecessarily trying to establish a “bhai-behen” (brother-sister) or “bua-bhatija” (aunt-nephew) relationship with her for “political benefits”. She said, “The person who was released recently by BJP has been trying to cover his shortcomings by trying to unnecessarily establish a relationship by calling me ‘bua’. I would like to tell such people that I will never have a wholehearted or respectful relationship with them.” She added that if such people were “genuine sympathisers”, they would not have formed separate organisations and would have instead joined the BSP.

However, Azad told the Times of India that he had no inclination to contest the 2019 elections and, despite Mayawati’s remarks, he considers all Dalits as part of his family. He said his fight is for the redemption of Dalits and that he had no intention to upstage any political outfit, including the BSP.

The verbal duel clearly reflected Mayawati’s dislike for any parallel Dalit leadership in Uttar Pradesh. Ever since the Bhim Army shot into prominence in the aftermath of caste violence in Saharanpur in May last year, Mayawati has not extended support and has in fact been quite inimical to Azad and his team.

Bhim Army, too, was quite critical of the BSP when talk of anti-BJP opposition unity had not crystallised and Mayawati was not so vocal in her opposition to the BJP as she is now. Azad’s positive gestures towards Mayawati, along with his call asking people not to vote for the BJP at any cost in 2019, shows the widespread negative sentiment that Dalits of UP have for the BJP at the moment.

This is precisely why Mayawati, in trying to emerge as the sole representative of Dalits in UP, stated that her primary effort will be to stop the BJP from coming to power at any cost.

Punching above her weight in Rajasthan and MP

In the past few days, many Congress leaders have spoken off-the-record that Mayawati wanted a decent share of seats not only in UP, where the Congress has a negligible presence now, but also in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is chief contender to the BJP. The Congress leaders said that while the party is ready to sacrifice its interests in UP, Mayawati is punching above her weight in the other two states, where assembly elections are due later this year.

Mayawati with Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Tejashwi Yadav, Rahul Gandhi among others. Credit: PTI

Mayawati’s press statements on Sunday was indeed peppered with multiple messages. Merely two months before the assembly elections, Mayawati has sent a signal to not just all parties in UP, but also to the All India Congress Committee (AICC). She wants the grand-old party to consider the BSP’s interests in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Currently, the BSP has no representation in parliament. Thus, it has already made it clear that it would try to work the anti-BJP opposition front to its advantage by expanding in states other than UP – if not under the Congress, then possibly under a third front umbrella.

It did ally with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka assembly polls and managed to win a seat in a state where it had no presence. The BSP chief also ensured that her lone Karnataka MLA got a ministerial berth. It appears that Mayawati has now set her eyes on Rajasthan and MP assembly polls this year, rather than the 2019 parliamentary polls. One step at a time is a formula that will surely do her no harm.