A wounded elephant on the rampage


Mayawati shelves prime ministerial dreams and turns to safeguarding her base, says Anil Tripathi

Illustration: Anand Naorem

MAYAWATI’S PROMISE of a Sarvajan Samaj, a society in which all castes and religions would coexist, has been dashed to pieces and her biggest challenge now is to retain the support of her Bahujan Samaj, a political front fashioned from Dalit mobilisation. Enraged by the way her prime ministerial ambitions have been shattered by the people, not only is she attacking her opponents, she has turned on those very people who were instrumental in her ascent to power.

The rallying cry of a Bahujan Samaj established Kanshi Ram as a political force. Mayawati, the heir to his mantle, has, for years, proudly touted herself as a daughter of a dalit, in an effort to cash in politically on her identity. When attempted at a national level, this endeavour has failed spectacularly, causing her to revert to her strategy of putting dalit interests first. One example of this new determination is the fresh set of diktats she issued to the police a few days after election results were announced. From now on, she commanded, excesses against dalits would be investigated by officers of at least Superintendent of Police rank. She also ordered that senior police officers should investigate the sites of alleged atrocities against dalits the day they are reported, should provide justice that very day and should report such action to the media as well.

The absolute majority Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) earned in Uttar Pradesh in the 2007 state elections sparked a triumphant cry, “UP to hamari hai, ab Dilli ki baari hai” (UP is now ours; our next target is Delhi). Unfortunately, power-drunk BSP leaders grew more and more distant from the people, as party strategists misinterpreted the massive 2007 mandate and replaced clear-headed analysis with wishful fantasies of an impending, inevitable rule at the national level.

Senior policemen are now to probe anti-dalit atrocities the day they’re reported

The BSP won 19 Lok Sabha seats in 2004 and was swept to power in the state in 2007. For a brief while, it seemed that the BSP was invincible and would surely triumph in Delhi, but in a few months the sheen wore off. Citing a supposed security threat to her life, Mayawati’s coterie insulated her from contact with the people who had voted her to power. Soon, the law and order situation regressed to its dismal norm. As the situation deteriorated, the image of those in power became, again, that of a group bent on earning money for themselves. All ills of the state were blamed on the Centre and in the guise of social engineering, the interests of a particular Brahmin family were promoted above all others.

The plight of the poor of UP began to be ignored and the BSP focused its efforts on seizing power at the Centre. As the heavy mandate for the BSP began to be extrapolated by a media chorus into an imminent prime ministership for Mayawati, no one bothered to check with the common people who had wrought Mayawati’s ascent to power in 2007. The BSP’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 was inevitable.

The Congress thinks its comeback in UP is due to its rising star Rahul Gandhi, but UP’s voters have not voted for the Congress as much as they have voted against the BSP, to rid themselves of a dispensation based overwhelmingly on caste and clouded by the influence of private companies. The BSP and the SP are terrified by the prospect of their vote banks returning to their traditional corners, that of the Congress and the BJP. As a result, Mayawati has publicly castigated even minority voters for her loss.

All managers of UP’s state government corporations were summarily fired

Within a mere two days of her humbling at the hustings, a furious Mayawati started to act. She began by sacking the BSP party leaders who had been named chairpersons, vice-chairpersons and members of all UP’s state government corporations, a group that numbered over 120 people. These officials, who were once given the status of ministers, were asked to sign a printed form which stated that they accepted responsibility for the BSP’s loss and were therefore resigning. Next, in an act reminiscent of the collective punishment feudal lords awarded to their levies, she sacked tens of IAS, IPS and PCS officers, reportedly because BSP candidates in districts they supervised had lost. Later, it was revealed that she felt that the erring civil servants had promoted poverty relief schemes of the Central government while going slow on her state government’s programmes. Even those in her cabinet have not escaped unscathed. The chief minister has warned her ministers that if they do not perform and start working in earnest, they too will face the strictest of action.

An enraged Mayawati directed her wrath even at Panna Lal Punia, a dalit and former Principal Secretary of Uttar Pradesh — who has now been elected to the Lok Sabha as the Congress candidate from Barabanki — calling him a traitor, using expletives against him and even going to the extent of saying that Punia was not a chamaar, but a danuk from Haryana. This has further alienated the people of UP.

Her loss has caused Mayawati to retreat to her tried-and-trusted Bahujan strategy, but only the by-elections to the state assembly which will soon be held will reveal how convinced the voters are that she has mended her ways. Punia’s popularity is rising even as Mayawati’s star wanes. What will happen to her if the Congress names PL Punia its chief ministerial candidate in 2012?





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