Saturday, 31 March 2018


BSP chief Mayawati

Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) supremo and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati was perhaps the most high profile casualty, amongst the many regional leaders who fell victim to the phenomenal Modi wave that has dominated the political scene in the country since late 2013. Arguably, the most popular Dalit leader in the country, her party drew a blank in the 2014 General Elections that saw a resurgent BJP claiming 73 seats in India's most populous state. As Narendra Modi took oath to become India's 14th Prime Minister, Behenji, who has openly expressed her desire to lead the country on multiple occasions, was left licking her wounds.

Demonetization is believed to have hit Mayawati particularly hard; with finances drying up and several key leaders jumping ship, BSP was in tatters before the crucial state assembly polls. As if the humiliation in 2014 elections was not enough, the BSP finished a distant third in the 2017 state polls; its tally of 19 was its lowest since Mayawati took over the reins of the party from her mentor - Kanshi Ram. In what seemed more like a desperate, last ditched effort to garner some sympathy, she resigned from Rajya Sabha in July last year, accusing the ruling dispensation of not allowing her to highlight the atrocities faced by her fellow Dalits across the country under the Modi rule. Though her theatrics did win her some support from the Congress and several prominent regional leaders, her once vice-like grip over her low caste vote bank seemed to slipping away from her.

With her back against the wall, Mayawati finally gulped down her ego and decided to join forces with her nemesis Akhilesh Yadav of the SP to form a united front against the BJP in the by-polls to the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur parliamentary seats held earlier this month. In what was billed as the first test for anti-BJP forces before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the SP candidates, backed by a host of parties, most notably the BSP, handed the saffron outfit a stunning defeat in the seats that were won by the incumbent CM and deputy CM, four years ago. As Akhilesh drove to Mayawati's residence to personally thank her for her backing, many felt that this was the beginning of a broad alliance of regional parties across the country whose existence was threatened by Modi and his ability to break traditional vote banks by talking about development on one hand and arousing Hindutva sentiments on other. The defeat of the BSP candidate for the tenth Rajya Sabha seat from the state in spite of the Congress and some Samajwadi MLAs voting in its favor was seen as a minor setback while fighting for a 'larger cause'; opposition leaders suggested that the defeat would further strengthened their resolve to work together. Behenji and Akhilesh made it clear that the understanding between them was on, 'in the larger interest of the country'.

Mayawati however, has a mind of her own; a champ of the coalition era, who made national parties dance to her tunes, the BSP supremo did a volte face three days later, refusing to activate her cadre in support of the SP candidate for the Kairana assembly segment. What prompted Behenji to break or rather suspend her short lived honeymoon with the SP is difficult to ascertain. Here are some possible reasons why the BSP chief may want to weigh in the many options before her and take time prior to committing fully to an alliance with the SP or any other party:

(1) Playing second fiddle to Yadav: Akhilesh's emergence as the face of the united opposition to Modi led BJP in Uttar Pradesh may not go down well with Mayawati. After all, she is a four time CM of Uttar Pradesh, has served as the deputy CM once and has been active in politics for over three decades. With such an impressive resume, she may not been very keen to work under the much younger Akhilesh, who is seen by many to be quite inexperienced. In fact, after the defeat of her candidate in the recently held Rajya Sabha polls, Behenji, speaking at a press conference pointed out that it was political immaturity on the part of the SP President to rely on independent candidate Raja Bhaiya's vote to secure victory for her candidate. Not participating in the by-polls may be her way of making it clear that she too is an aspirant to lead the regional block, at least in UP in 2019. Moreover, she has sent a clear signal that she cannot be taken for granted and her participation in the anti-Modi block will be on her terms.

(2) BSP's issues with pre-poll tie ups: Mayawati and her outfit have always been averse to tie ups with prospective alliance partners before elections. The fundamental belief behind this, at least the one that the party leaders put up is that while BSP is able to transfer its votes to its ally, the reverse does not happen; thus, while the ally benefits or that is what the BSP believes, it ends up gaining nothing besides the the fact that it has to vacate some seats for its partner. The loss in the Rajya Sabha elections may only reinforce this belief wherein a united Opposition including the SP, Congress and the RLD failed to secure a victory for Mayawati's chosen candidate Bhimrao Ambedkar. Though Behenji was all praises for the commitment displayed by the SP and the Congress in the polls to the Upper House of the Parliament, it is likely that the defeat of Ambedkar will play on her mind as and when she decides to stitch any alliance with them in the near future.

(3) Buying Time: Mamta Bannerjee and KCR have rolled the dice and have heralded the process of the formation of a broader alliance of state parties in their attempt to stop the Modi juggernaut in next year's Union polls. Meanwhile, several regional satraps, chief amongst them being Naveen Patnaik, KCR, Chandrababu Naidu and the Yechury led Kerala block of the CPM would prefer maintaining a distance from the Congress considering that the grand old party is their principal rival in their respective states. As such, there is a very high probability that in 2019, one or more blocks viz the UPA, the Third Front etc. may be formed to take on the BJP. Mayawati may want to weigh in the options before her prior to committing herself to any of the these. Meanwhile, Union Minister Athavale whose party the RPI(A) is a part of the NDA has invited the Dalit leader to join the BJP for the welfare of the down trodden. Certainly, the wily Mayawati would rather focus on strengthening her cadre and wooing back her traditional vote base for the time being so that she is in a more commanding position at the onset of 2019.

The BSP supremo is keeping her cards close to her chest; in the run up to 2019, which could be a do or die situation, both for her and her party, Mayawati may well rise from the ashes, like the proverbial phoenix and play a key role in the formation of the next government at Center, irrespective of who is leading it.
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