On the revival trail, Behenji reverts to old agenda

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On a slippery wicket BSP supremo Mayawati at a party convention in New Delhi, Photo: Tehelka Archives
On a slippery wicket BSP supremo Mayawati at a party convention in New Delhi, Photo: Tehelka Archives

The tumult over land acquisition is redefining political alignments in a big way, and the manner in which the Narendra Modi establishment is trying to humour the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by fully backing her Yamuna Expressway plan has surprised political observers. The BSP had a real tough time selling the expressway idea, which on completion, would have connected Ballia in eastern Uttar Pradesh to the national capital.

This change of heart on the BJP’s part is being attributed to its anxiety over the Congress-led Opposition’s attempt to paint the Modi establishment as being in favour of big business and multinationals.

With the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls less than two years away, BSP supremo Mayawati is looking at sure-shot gambits to stay relevant and in the reckoning. Even as the Congress tries to revive itself as a political force by riding the wave of farmers and tribals’ protests against the land acquisition Bill, the BSP, which was decimated in both the Lok Sabha and the UP Assembly polls, is wary of being left behind and is charting out plans to jump on the same bandwagon.

Maybe that is why Mayawati’s party, which has hardly organised any sustained street protests in recent times, has been forced to go all out against the Bill. The party took out a protest march last week in Lucknow and Mayawati announced plans for a nationwide agitation against the anti-farmer policies of the Centre to be held on 2 May.

“We have decided to launch a campaign against the Centre’s plan to snatch farmers’ land and hand it over to big corporate houses. We will also protest against the Central and state governments for delaying financial aid to farmers whose crop was damaged due to unseasonal rain and hailstorm,” said Mayawati.

Nobody, however, knows what is on Mayawati’s mind. Those who have watched her electoral tactics closely don’t take her move against the Modi government seriously. They say she might just be testing political waters. With 10 Rajya Sabha members, she may be putting the BJP-led government on notice.

In sharp contrast, the BJP, lacking sufficient numbers in the Upper House, cannot afford to take Mayawati lightly. And Mayawati, who uses her political strength to further her party’s cause, has a history of aligning with the BJP twice in UP.

Rumour has it that if the government changes some provisions of the Bill, the BSP might support it, thereby extending an olive branch to the saffron party with an eye on the 2017 Assembly polls in UP.

It must also be recalled that the BSP was not part of the 14-party delegation led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi that submitted a memorandum against the land Bill to President Pranab Mukherjee.

Moreover, in October last year, a fee months after the Modi government took over, the CBI gave a clean chit to Mayawati in a disproportionate assets case. It was during the hearing of a petition seeking the re-opening of the case against the BSP supremo filed by Kamlesh Sharma, a resident of UP, that the CBI informed the Supreme Court that they did not have any fresh evidence against her. This prompted many to think that the Modi government was trying to woo Mayawati in a bid to get her support in the Rajya Sabha Since its formation in 1984, the party gradually increased its tally and vote share in both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. In 1989, it bagged 13 of the 426 seats in the Legislative Assembly of the then undivided Uttar Pradesh with a 9.41 percent vote share. Two years later, it got 12 seats with a vote share of 9.44 percent. The upswing continued with the 1993 and 1996 polls in which the party secured 67 seats and polled 19.64 percent votes.

In the 2002 Assembly polls, the first election held after Uttarakhand was carved out of the state, the BSP won 98 of the 403 seats with its vote share going up to 23.06 percent.

Farmers’ unrest Irate farmers take out a protest in Bhatta Parsaul
Farmers’ unrest Irate farmers take out a protest in Bhatta Parsaul

By 2007, Mayawati had begun experimenting with a new electoral strategy that involved cobbling together a social coalition comprising Dalits and the upper castes — the “Sarvajan samaj”. Coining a new slogan, ‘Hathi Nahin Ganesh Hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh Hai’, the BSP stormed to power for a fourth time with 206 seats and 30.43 percent vote share.

But the 2012 election was different. This time Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav rode his cycle to the UP Vidhan Sabha, confining the BSP to 80 seats and 25.91 percent votes.

Mayawati hoped to stage a comeback in the 2014 general election, but the communal polarisation engineered by the Modi-Amit Shah duo in UP in the run-up to the polls poured cold water on her plans to emerge as a decisive force in national politics. Her party could not win a single seat despite polling 19.6 percent votes in UP and she was in political wilderness for several months after the debacle.

For someone who played a major role in coalition governments at the Centre earlier, the electoral drubbing put Mayawati in a precarious political position. The BSP had bagged 19 and 20 seats with a vote share of 24.67 and 27.42 percent in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls, respectively. But after the wipeout in the 2014 election, many second-rung leaders quit the party accusing her of a dictatorial approach.

Soon after the electoral debacle, Mayawati told the media that the BSP lost because it failed to get the Muslim vote. She also admitted that the OBCs and the upper castes, too, deserted the party in the polls. Even the Dalits, the party’s core vote bank, did not vote for her as overwhelmingly as they had done in the past. In fact, the huge dip in Dalit votes was the main reason for the BSP’s disastrous show.

Even then, the BSP managed to emerge as the third largest party in terms of national vote share (4.2 percent).

Dalits of 66 subcastes comprise 21 percent of the population in UP. Among the Dalits, 56.3 percent belong to Mayawati’s caste of Chamar/Jatav, Pasi are 15.9 percent, while Dhobi, Kori and Balmiki comprise 15.3 percent. Most of the subcastes other than Chamar/Jatav are mainly from western UP.

In the 2007 Assembly polls, the BSP won 62 out of 89 reserved seats, while the Samajwadi Party won 13, the BJP seven and the Congress five. However, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, out of 17 reserved seats in UP, the BSP won two, the Samajwadi Party 10 and the Congress two.

While the BSP polled 30 percent votes from the reserved seats in 2007, the vote share fell by 3 percent in the 2009 general election. Similarly, in the 2012 Assembly polls, the BSP won only 16 of 85 reserved seats, while the Samajwadi Party grabbed 54. The winners from the reserved seats included 35 from the Chamar/Jatav subcaste and 25 Pasis. Interestingly, 21 of the Pasi winners belonged to the Samajwadi Party and only two were from the BSP.

From 27.42 percent in 2009 to 19.6 in 2014, the BSP lost a significant — nearly 8 percent — vote share, which could have proved decisive. So, maybe Mayawati can no longer take the support of the Chamars/Jatavs for granted.

No wonder, then, reviving the party would be an uphill task for Mayawati. It is doubtful whether the upper castes would support the BSP as they had done in the 2007 polls. In 2014, Brahmin candidates lost miserably on the 21 seats they had contested on the BSP ticket. It is to be seen how the BSP would go about regaining the constituencies it has lost.

The Janata Parivar led by the Samajwadi Party is already making efforts to woo the minorities in the state back into its fold. Hobbled by persistent dissidence in her party, Mayawati would have to find a way to deal with it before the battle for UP begins. BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s younger brother Dalbara Singh and former minister Daddu Prasad have launched a new party, the Samajik Parivartan Manch, and organised several meetings in the state to attract the Dalits.

Former Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Kureel, who was thrown out of the BSP after he questioned Mayawati’s leadership, has started a campaign with the slogan ‘Mayawati Hatao, BSP Bachao’. He alleged that she was becoming the puppet of Brahminical forces. “Mayawati does not take decisions based on the interests of the Bahujan samaj. She has long been controlled by whoever is in power at the Centre. The rally on the land Bill is another example of how she fools the people. She will be finished in 2017,” Kureel tells Tehelka. “Also, BJP MP Kirit Somaiya accused Mayawati of unaccounted wealth and asked why the government was not taking any action against her.”

Ten months after the general election, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have started regaining lost ground. But the same cannot be said about the BSP and its supremo. The other threat staring at Mayawati is that the BJP and the Congress are trying their best to appropriate BR Ambedkar’s legacy, which could prove to be disastrous for her party.

With the land Bill putting the Modi government on the defensive, Mayawati could be exploring the possibility of allying with the BJP for the 2017 UP Assembly polls. But whether the BJP, which hopes to repeat its Lok Sabha election performance, is willing to play ball remains to be seen. Be that as it may, Mayawati would surely leave no stone unturned to come out of the political margins.

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