The symbolism of Yadav chieftains bending before Mayawati could alter the future of politics in UP and Bihar.
The image of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Yadav’s heir apparent Tejashwi bending and touching Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati’s feet is one for the albums.
After Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, his Bihari counterpart too bowed to the Dalit queen of Indian politics. This could have far-reaching repercussions.
Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav are both older than Mayawati. The relative youth of Akhilesh and Tejashwi allows them to treat Mayawati with the respect accorded to an older person. Akhilesh gave her the moniker of Bua – paternal aunt – long before he usurped his father’s throne.
And yes, it matters that Lalu Yadav’s political career is over, insofar as Tejashwi building a bridge with Mayawati, making her his Bua too. But make no mistake: age is just a number, age is just an excuse.
The generational change in the Yadav parties of UP and Bihar comes with a historical challenge. Both the RJD and the SP thrive on a Yadav vote bank that will always keep them relevant.
Yet, the brash, assertive, dominant Yadavs of the Gangetic plains alienate others so much that nobody wants to vote for and with them.
The only exception is Muslims, who have no choice except to give in to the secular blackmail. The M-Y vote is not enough, and in any case, the Muslim vote often gets divided among other claimants such as the BSP, the Congress or Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).
But the M-Y vote is not enough numerically to make Akhilesh or Tejashwi chief minister.
Yadav Raj in Uttar Pradesh has been synonymous with Goonda Raj, and Jungle Raj in Bihar. Both Akhilesh and Tejashwi present a new face, a new and softer image of their parties. Akhilesh has already delivered on it: getting rid of his father, his much-maligned uncle Shivpal Yadav, getting rid of all kinds of goonda politicians even at the cost of votes, such as Atiq Ahmed in Allahabad.
It’s easier for them to change themselves, even their party workers, but who will tame the Yadavs? You could be standing at a village square in UP or Bihar, talking to a group of farmers or manual labourers of castes lower than Yadavs in the hierarchy, and suddenly a Yadav will arrive, say something brash like a bully, and run away.
Yadavs are to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) what Thakurs are to upper castes. And when their party is in power, they make sure everybody hates them.
Lalu Yadav in his day kept Kanshi Ram away from Bihar, hoping to conquer the Dalit vote by himself. And Mulayam Singh Yadav is seen as the symbol of Yadav oppression of Dalits, thanks to the infamous guest house incident where Yadav goons tried to assault Mayawati.
A Yadav alliance with Mayawati is the sort of radical move that has the potential to change the course of politics in the two states.
Out of the M-Y box
On the face of it, Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance with Mayawati is only a strategic electoral alliance to prevent the division of anti-BJP votes. One the face of it, Tejashwi Yadav only wants Mayawati’s endorsement so he could woo Bihar’s 5 per cent Jatav population – the same Dalit sub-caste as Mayawati’s. In exchange, the RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar is likely to leave one seat for Mayawati’s BSP.
The bargaining is not for 2019 alone. Akhilesh Yadav has already said his alliance with the BSP is to continue into the 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh. It’s unlikely the BJP is going to lose its grip over the populous non-Yadav OBCs in Uttar Pradesh, so Akhilesh Yadav needs Mayawati’s Dalit vote bank to be in the treasury benches.
Both Tejashwi and Akhilesh are in desperate need of some votes more than just the M-Y votes. If Yadavs alienate other castes, Muslims polarise the Hindutva voter. The SP in UP and the RJD in Bihar are both thus boxed in.
Mayawati is the ticket to get out of this box.
Stooping to conquer
Bending before Mayawati helps the Yadavs project a softer image of themselves and their parties before all castes and communities. Akhilesh Yadav was clear in his press conference: any insult to Mayawati is an insult to Akhilesh.
The message was as much a command as a warning to his Yadav workers and voters.
If you are a Dalit voter in UP or Bihar, it is impossible to not be impressed with Akhilesh and Tejashwi’s submission before Mayawati. The two Yadav chieftains could grow in their political appeal beyond M-Y communities through their association with Mayawati, especially if this association succeeds over the next few years.
This could, in the long run, help them woo castes and communities who feel threatened by the M-Y combination.
Akhilesh Yadav agrees to visit Mayawati in a car sent by her. He says he’s willing to contest fewer seats but Behenji is generous enough to make it an equal fight.
He thanks her twice for the alliance but despite having zero seats in the Lok Sabha, she doesn’t feel the need to thank him. She speaks at length, she gives out the details, she leads the charge. The humble nephew merely endorses.
He even has her insult his estranged uncle Shivpal before him as a BJP stooge. At long last, the Dalit queen of Indian politics has tamed the brash Yadavs.
In the months and perhaps years to come, we could see more of this. The Dalit queen rises in stature as the Yadavs bend before her.
And the Yadavs stoop to conquer.
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