The Elephant in Modi’s Room


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In the current political scenario, Uttar Pradesh looks like a fertile ground for both Narendra Modi and Mayawati. But there are certain loopholes the BSP must plug quickly if the favourable situation is to be cashed in on during the General Election. Party insiders say that the BSP supremo is tacitly working towards this end and has already taken steps to compensate for past mistakes.

The BSP believes that if Muslims subscribe to the sarvjan (all community) formula the party adopted in 2007, an invincible alliance will be born. On the other hand, there are Brahmins who are apparently being swept by the Modi wave. In addition, the extremely backward classes (EBCs), which party founder Kanshi Ram had painstakingly brought together, have become disenchanted ever since his demise in 2006. But in the past few months, the BSP has adopted some measures, which might help it improve upon its 2009 performance.

Mayawati faces three immediate challenges: to win back Brahmins gravitating towards the BJP, to uphold the Dalit issue and keep Dalits from being swept by the Modi wave, and to clean her pro-BJP image before the Muslim voters. If she manages to deal with these challenges, the BSP will be the only other party besides the BJP likely to perform better than in the 2009 General Election in Uttar Pradesh.

The Muslim factor

In the past few weeks, the BSP has been working hard to appease Muslim voters. In 2012, the SP formed the government largely with Muslim support but the community has grown disillusioned since then. Around 100 major and minor riots have taken place in the two years of SP rule. After the Muzaffarnagar riots of last October, the SP seems to have lost its credentials completely.

“Muslims are miffed with the SP and Mayawati is going to take advantage of that,” says senior journalist Govind Pant Raju. Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind president Mahmood Madani also took an initiative towards further cementing ties between the BSP and the Muslim community when he met BSP MP Saleem Ansari and expressed his wish to lend support to the party. Talks have progressed in this direction and Madani is likely to meet the BSP top leadership soon.

While the BJP and the SP were busy clamouring for the top position, the BSP took a step that has left even Mulayam Singh Yadav dumbfounded. A total of 19 Muslim names have made it to the BSP’s list of candidates, which is five more than the SP. “We decided our candidates 18 months ago,” says senior party leader Swami Prasad Maurya. “They have been directed to start their campaigns. There will be no change in the list now.”

To take the Muslim community in confidence and build long-term relations with them, the party had appointed its Muslim face, Rajya Sabha MP Munkad Ali, as in-charge of western Uttar Pradesh.

“In western UP, the Muslim vote will go to the BSP in its entirety,” says political analyst Hemant Tiwari. “And if things go right for Mayawati, Muslims in other parts of UP are going to support the BSP. Nearly 70 percent of the BSP candidates have been actively working in their respective constituencies for the past 18 months. The SP recently changed 39 out of 77 of its candidates, which will certainly lead to internal strife in the party.”

Mayawati is pinning her hopes on repeating the 2009 performance. Although the BSP’s showing in the General Election was not extraordinary, the party managed to win 20 seats, of which four winners were Muslims. On the other hand, no Muslim candidate won on behalf of the SP even though Mulayam had emerged as the messiah for Muslims. 47 BSP candidates had lost with a very small margin.

An analysis of facts and figures brings out several realities to light. The population of UP is constituted of 18 percent Muslims and 23 percent Dalits. In such a situation, a Dalit-Muslim combination will ensure a definite victory for Mayawati. “If the BSP manages to consolidate a Dalit-Muslim alliance, it will conquer the political landscape of UP forever,” says political commentator Ram Dutt Tripathi. “But it is not easy in view of Mayawati’s on-and-off liaison with the BJP.”

But Mayawati has worked out a possible solution. At a massive rally in Lucknow on 15 January, she announced that her party would support neither the BJP nor the Congress. Political analysts draw a twofold conclusion from it. One, she wants to shrug off the pro-BJP image, sending a clear message to the Muslim community.

“Muslim voters are quiet because they want to teach the SP a lesson,” says political commentator Ajay Bose, who also wrote a biography of Mayawati. “They are keeping the SP in a dilemma but will ultimately vote for the BSP.”

Secondly, by distancing herself from the Congress, she has attempted to save her party from being touched by the anti- incumbency against the UPA government. Before the 15 January rally, a Congress- BSP alliance was reportedly in the works. In a public statement, Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma had said, “To check the communal forces in UP as well as the whole country, the Congress and the BSP must come together. If the alliance works out, it will be the writing on the wall for all other parties.” But the alliance never saw the light of day.

At the same time, she refuses to tolerate any pro-BJP or pro-Modi gesture. A few months ago, BSP MP from Bundelkhand Vijay Bahadur Singh praised Modi. The next day, Mayawati expelled him from the party. That was another attempt to please the Muslim community.

Wooing the Brahmins

In the 2007 Assembly election, the BSP had recorded a phenomenal victory. For the first time, the party formed a majority government in UP as its vote percentage climbed up to 30 percent. Apparently Mayawati’s social engineering programme had played a key role in this miraculous win. The party’s Brahmin face, Satish Chandra Mishra, gained overnight fame as Mayawati’s close aide.

However, journalist Raju has a different opinion. “The BSP’s Brahmin vote percentage was overrated in 2007. It was nothing but a wave of protest against Mulayam’s misgovernance that led all the communities to support Mayawati,” he says. At the time, the BSP win was largely attributed to Mishra, who organised sarvjan rallies across the state for a year promoting the agenda of Dalit-Brahmin unity.

But things have changed now. The BSP has already faced defeat twice: the 2009 General Election and the 2012 Assembly election. The party’s vote share slipped by 5 percent, making it clear that the Dalit- Brahmin formula is no longer relevant. Experts believe that the Brahmins will stay away from the BSP this time.

“The BSP will not receive the Brahmin vote at any cost in the Lok Sabha polls,” says Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee spokesman Surendra Rajput. “Brahmin voters did not vote for them even in 2009. Right now, they are backing Modi and the BJP because they understand that in the case of a BJP victory, power will rest in their hands.”

The Brahmins and the urban middle class are clearly under Modi’s influence. The Modi wave has brought about a new polarisation in the already factionalised politics of UP. Political commentator Bose makes an interesting observation. “After a long time, a largely bipolar election will be witnessed in UP,” he says. “While the Brahmins, Thakurs and the urban middle class favour Modi, Mayawati is leaning on Dalits, Muslims and EBCs. The Congress has already been kicked out of the race, whereas Mulayam only has the Yadav vote. In fact, even a section of Yadavs might turn against Mulayam for furthering the interests of his own family.”

The question is how far will the breaking up of the Dalit-Brahmin alliance (that brought about the 2009 victory) affect the BSP and what will be the party’s strategy in the General Election. “Right now, the party is focussing on a 40 percent (Dalit- Muslim) formula and not 30 percent (Dalit-Brahmin) formula,” says a senior BSP leader.

But there is no fear of Brahmins within the BSP being swept by the Modi wave. “The BSP has never received so much Brahmin vote in the state as it is overhyped,” says Bose.

In spite of this, efforts are on at two levels to woo Brahmins. Mishra is travelling across the state, organising Dalit- Brahmin rallies, similar to what he did in 2006. The party has also given tickets to 21 Brahmin candidates. The strategy is to bag a portion of Brahmin votes at the candidate’s individual level as a bonus.

Making peace with EBCs

A social engineering programme directed at Dalits and EBCs devised by Kanshi Ram paved the BSP’s way to political success. He had galvanised various EBC communities, including Bind, Rajbhar, Barai, Kushwaha and Pasi, under a single umbrella. But after 1998, Kanshi Ram’s influence in the party decreased and the coalition began to disband. Kanshi Ram had already announced Mayawati as his successor and she emerged as the new force.

Experts hold Mayawati’s autocratic attitude responsible for the Dalit-EBC alliance coming apart. She began sidelining leaders who posed a challenge to her authority. By 2001, the BSP had ousted several members whom Kanshi Ram had roped in, including leaders such as Barkhuram Verma, RK Chaudhary, Ram Samujh Pasi, Dr Masood and Kishan Pal. Their departure established Mayawati as the BSP’s sole sovereign. But the former chief minister has lately realised that in order to conquer New Delhi, she will have to follow in the footsteps of Kanshi Ram.

In the past few months, Mayawati has adopted some corrective measures to improve the chances of EBCs tying up with the BSP once again. The EBC presence in the party has also gone up along with that of the Dalits.

Behenji is going to bring RK Chaudhary back in the party,” says Bose. “Chaudhary was a close associate of Kanshi Ram and one of the founders of BSP. The return of another Pasi leader, Ram Samujh Pasi, is also being conjectured. UP has a large Pasi population.”

The BSP has expanded the umbrella by inducting EBC leaders such as Sukhdev Rajbhar, Ramachal Rajbhar, and Swami Prasad Maurya.

When asked about the reunion, Maurya said, “The BSP does not consider individuals. Our aim is to bring together all communities. Behenji will consider those who express a desire to return.”

Alliances and Agendas

“No doubt, there is a Modi wave but it lacks the vigour of the mandir movement,” says Bose. He says that the Dalit middle class has become emotionally inclined towards Mayawati once again. The issue of reservations in promotion recently made headlines. Except for the BSP, all other parties opposed it. Bose claims that such an opposition angered the working-class and middle-class Dalits. They believe that only Mayawati can earn them this right. In turn, the BSP has also strongly raised the issue to secure its vote bank.

The BSP is turning to its former allies to proceed in this direction. “Founded by Kanshi Ram in the 1970s, both the DS4 and the BAMCEF function as BSP cadre organisations even today,” says journalist Raju. “They are active across districts and tehsils to celebrate anniversaries of revered Dalit leaders. Dalits and the EBCs actively participate in these programmes. The BSP mobilises its Dalit vote bank through these programmes. These organisations are deeply entwined with the BSP’s political framework. It comprises a big network of local committees through which even the smallest of messages travels quickly between Mayawati and the voter.”

Mulayam is considered an ace player in electoral management. He is going to give a tough fight. All eyes are awaiting his next move. “To draw Muslims back into his camp, he has an entire force of Muslim ulemas standing by him,” says Congress spokesman Rajput. “They are going to visit every village and urge people to vote for the SP.”

In addition, Mulayam looks keen to put Muzaffarnagar behind him and project Modi as an enemy of the Muslims. If he succeeds, Mayawati’s strategy will suffer because her Brahmin vote bank is being threatened by Modi’s presence.

However, experts agree that the BJP and the BSP are likely to finish as the top two parties in Uttar Pradesh. If Mayawati has her way, she is the only one capable of giving Modi tough competition at both the state and the national level.

Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman


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