New Delhi: Politically isolated and missing from the farmers and Hindutva narrative — this is how political analysts see Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati today. The Dalit leader has barely been heard making any forceful interventions in the political discourse of late, with her political activities limited to random tweets.
However, ahead of the Uttar Pradesh district and gram panchayat elections whose schedule is likely to be announced this month-end, the Dalit leader is seeking to make her party’s presence felt. She is meeting with BSP coordinators, preparing the list of candidates and discussing party strategy. Her sudden awakening, about a year before the next assembly election, has got political parties and observers to sit up and take notice. Can she make a comeback, is the question on their minds.
Her proactive approach comes in the backdrop of a growing disillusionment among BSP leaders as also the rank and file, given the way Mayawati suddenly withdrew herself after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, keeping aloof from party leaders and doing politics through Twitter.
Many prominent BSP faces have since joined rival Samajwadi Party (SP) and political observers in Uttar Pradesh believe there could be more defections coming up as assembly elections draw closer.
As it stands, the BSP has been missing on the ground as the farmers’ protests rock western UP. Meanwhile, all parties, including the SP, Congress and Rashtriya Lok dal (RLD) have been holding meetings with farmers to try and regain lost ground in the wake of the agitations against the three controversial central farm laws.
Sudhir Panwar, a Samajwadi leader and Lucknow University professor, said, “Her attitude shows that she still is relying on her 20 per cent traditional vote share. But the traditional voter-based politics has changed now. In the upcoming election, the issues will be in two-block — Ram Mandir and the farmer’s agitation. BSP has not been able to put a stamp on any of the two. By this combination, there is BJP on one side and there is SP on the other side.”
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Mayawati has in the past relied on the Dalit-Muslim or the Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin combination to boost her party. In the 2012 UP assembly election, the BSP secured nearly 26 per cent vote share — down from a little over 30 per cent in 2007 when the party had got a majority in the assembly. But in 2017, this percentage further reduced to 22 per cent.
“Her decline had already started in 2012. She has not been able to win after that. Her non-Jatav vote share has shifted too. During the 2019 Lok Sabha election, she allied with Akhilesh Yadav and went on to secure 10 seats with Yadav and OBCs votes. But she was not able to transfer the Dalit votes to the alliance partner,” Panwar told ThePrint.
The BSP managed a 19.3 per cent vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, mostly comprising Dalits.
“When she parted ways with SP, the Muslims put more responsibility on her. She has lost the Muslim solidarity, so she (is) seeking a combination with Owaisi (Hyderabad-based AIMIM) where this vote bank can be secured. But Dalits and Muslims go with the winnability. They both need a share in the power,” Panwar added.
‘Mayawati in political isolation but can bounce back’
Ajay Bose, who wrote a political biography of Mayawati, seconded Panwar. “Her attacks on BJP are mild. Instead, Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad, a young, emerging Dalit leader, is the one who has taken up national issues like CAA-NRC and has gone to jail.”
Sudha Pai, a retired political science professor from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “She has gone into political isolation. There is nothing of her in the public. There have been nationwide CAA-NRC protests, farmers protests and Dalit atrocities, but we don’t hear much of her. There is no indication of her next move. She needs to come up with a new strategy to bring Dalits and Muslims back to her fold. But as the Ram Mandir issue takes the center stage and BJP brings smaller sub-castes into the vast land of ‘Hindu kingdom’, she will not have much to do.”
BSP spokesperson Sudhindra Bhadauria, however, is dismissive of this criticism. “She (Mayawati) has always proved the political pundits wrong. She will bounce back,” he told ThePrint.
Bose, though, questions the BSP’s confidence.
“The paperback of my book’s edition has changed in 2018. It now says ‘The rise and fall of Mayawati’. The younger generation of Dalits are aspirational and they are disillusioned. Aazad’s rising popularity should alert her. When was the last time she spoke for a Dalit?”
The Azad Samaj Party, started by Chandra Shekhar Aazad, has been raising this question too. “The last time she spoke was in Parliament for Rohit Vemula,” a party spokesperson told ThePrint, referring to the case of the University of Hyderabad Dalit student who committed suicide in January 2016.
The issue had become a hot button political issue with Mayawati taking on then education minister Smriti Irani in Parliament and demanding the inclusion of a Dalit member in the judicial committee probing the suicide. Mayawati had also demanded that Irani resign.
A senior BSP leader. however, countered Azad Samaj Party and said, “Behenji has never done agitational politics. Aazad has the potential but jab tak behenji hain, tab koi doosra Dalit leader nahin (so long as Mayawati is there, there can be no other Dalit leader).”
Pai underscores that this could be an existential crisis for the BSP, but there is also a possibility of a revival. “(Mayawati) needs to come out of her political isolation.”
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)