Although she criticised them, on each occasion she prefixed their names with “Shree”, making her one of the few top leaders who have managed to keep their tone and emotions under control this election.
Respecting opponents has not been the style of BSP, especially Mayawati, and this linguistic shift was not incidental.
Through the campaign, Mayawati or her candidates have not made loud headlines, in stark contrast from previous elections when the sole strategy seemed to be capturing the media space. Even the famous “PM post for Dalit ki beti (PM post for daughter of a Dalit)” refrain is not heard.
BSP leaders say the quiet campaign is a strategy to ensure that opponents, especially Modi, get little space to attack Mayawati and the focus remains on the contest between the BJP and the Congress.
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“The entire electoral campaign is a highly-charged atmosphere, a calculated strategy of Narendra Modi. If we react to it, they get a boost. Ignoring them is the best strategy,” BSP national general secretary Suresh Mane told The Indian Express. “BJP has to capture ground in UP, while BSP and Mayawati are settled players. As you grow in stature and confidence, it’s reflected in your voice.”
The confidence seems to come from the unflinching support of its core vote — up to four lakh Dalits in almost every UP constituency.
Leaders say that the party has learnt from past experience when two previous high-profile campaigns, the BJP’s ‘India Shining’ in 2004 and BSP’s pitch to make Mayawati the prime minister in 2009 backfired.
“We are staying away from the limelight, working quietly,” said Ramavtar, who is in-charge of the BSP’s Ghosi election office.
The strategy has shifted the focus away from Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and made it a Congress vs BJP contest. While the Congress is visibly weakened, the SP is also facing anti-incumbency after three years of Akhilesh Yadav’s rule. And while some of the SP and Congress votes are expected to shift to the BJP, the BSP hopes to pocket the non-BJP voters from these two parties.
To catch this voter, Mayawati has fielded a record 21 Brahmins, eight Thakurs and 19 Muslims from UP, which has 80 seats. While the BJP and Congress have given tickets to 17 and 13 Brahmins respectively, the SP, considered to be strongly backed by Muslims, has 13 Muslim nominees, Congress has 10 and BJP, none.
Significantly, the BSP has not given a single ticket to a Dalit outside the reserved seats. Still, this voter does not seem to be going away.
It has strategically fielded Brahmins in seats where a Hindutva wave and upper caste surge is expected for the BJP candidate.
Muslims have got seats where an opponent candidate is likely to pocket community votes. In Azamgarh against Mulayam, for instance, the BSP has Guddu Zamali. At the Azamgarh rally, which was far bigger than the one held by Mulayam a few days ago, Mayawati pointedly told the crowd that she has the complete support of nearly three lakh Dalit votes, and if Muslims also vote for her, Mulayam would be defeated convincingly.
BSP is the only party in UP that has consistently increased its tally in the last six elections, except for a decrease of two seats in 1998. While it won 20 seats in 2009, it stood second in as many as 47, several of them by a margin of less than 5,000 votes – a direct contest in 67 of the 80 seats in an election the party is perceived to have fared poorly.
Amid the “Modi wave” and the vocal statements of Yadav and the Gandhi family, the BSP enters the 2014 election as a party which has nothing to lose.
The last few Lok Sabha and assembly polls have produced surprising results in UP. If Modi is unable to crack the caste code of Uttar Pradesh, the BSP elephant might spring a few surprises on May 16.