Maya woos them all

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The UP chief minister plays the family card to rope in support ahead of the 2012 Assembly polls, reports Virendra Nath Bhatt

A mouthful of tricks: Maya extolling the virtues of her grandfather
A mouthful of tricks: Maya extolling the virtues of her grandfather, Photo: Pramod Adhikari

CHIEF MINISTER Mayawati, till now opposed to dynasty in politics, has added her grandfather Mangal Sen to the pantheon of Dalit icons in a bid to reassure her core votebank. This, at a time when she’s visibly wooing upper castes and rousing regional aspirations by seeking four-way division of UP.

Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had won 206 seats in the 403-strong UP Assembly for the first time in 2007 by forging a new social coalition dubbed ‘Sarvajan’ — a euphemism for Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims. But in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the party could lead in only 100 Assembly segments falling under 80 Parliamentary seats.

A BSP leader told TEHELKA on condition of anonymity that the pandering to upper caste sentiment is being watched warily. It’s a tightrope walk. On 12 November, National Education Day, Mayawati inaugurated a university for the physically challenged, named after Shakuntala Mishra, mother of Satish Chandra Mishra, her right-hand man and Rajya Sabha MP. Here, she mentioned her grandfather in glowing terms, recalling how he had insisted on educating girls in the family. And instead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address to students, it was her speech that was read out in schools, in which too she invoked her enlightened ancestor.

With the 2012 Assembly polls less than six months away, stark realities haunt the BSP. Its vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha election plummeted to 27.42 percent against 30.43 percent in the 2007 Assembly election.

In at least three constituencies, there were warning signals. Take Agra, widely regarded as the ‘Dalit capital’ because of the large number of Dalit entrepreneurs and employment of Dalits in the footwear industry. The Agra seat was won by the BJP, with the BSP coming second.

Another setback for the BSP came in Barabanki (reserved) Lok Sabha seat. The victory of Congress candidate PL Punia, that too by a margin of over 1 lakh votes, came as a shocker, as he had served Mayawati as her principal secretary over her three tenures as CM. Defeat of the BSP candidate in Etawah Lok Sabha seat also highlighted the failure to implement the Dalit-Brahmin formula. This was the seat from where Kanshi Ram, Mayawati’s mentor and BSP founder, had won in 1991.

In the past four years, Dalits have watched with dismay as over three dozen of Satish Chandra Mishra’s family members and associates, including his brother and sister, got posts in government bodies and in the judiciary.

The price Mayawati might have to pay is too high, according to Badri Narayan, author and professor at GB Pant Social Science Institute. “In 2007, of the total 13 percent Brahmin population in UP, hardly two percent voted for the BSP,” he says. “In fact, Mayawati needs only this much support of Brahmins.”

Of course, Dalits and Brahmins may not actually vote on casteist lines, belying Mayawati’s cynical calculations. Atul Anjaan, national secretary of the CPI, certainly hopes not. “All this shows to what extent the politics of UP has degenerated,” he says. “For two long decades, castebased and communal parties have held sway.” But most political pundits say the fight will be between the regional players — Samajwadi Party and BSP — rather than the BJP and the Congress.

virendranathbhatt@gmail.com

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