Any talk of her being a prime ministerial candidate is restricted to what party leaders have been telling supporters. Mayawati has, nevertheless, been projected as such before. The last time was as recently as in 2009, an election that gave her party its best performance yet, and she is looking at bettering that despite having lost a lot of ground in between.
Routed in the assembly elections, relegated to third place in a byelection last year, the BSP has recovered to become the BJP’s declared primary opponent, thanks largely to public disillusionment with the Samajwadi Party for the way it handled the Muzaffarnagar riots, something that has drawn frequent comparisons with law and order during the previous Mayawati government.
The party has 20 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats, and a 21st in Madhya Pradesh. The SP has 22 in UP, with the BSP having finished second in 47. “With our base vote and the candidates’ community votes, we will surely win more seats this time,” says a party coordinator.
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The biggest display of Mayawati’s strength has been the one million people who assembled at Lucknow’s Ramabai Ambedkar Ground for her Rashtriya Savdhan Maha Rally on her 58th birthday. “Even if we go by various projections of the BSP getting 20 to 25 seats with a corresponding fall in the SP’s numbers, the BSP will be the third largest party in the Lok Sabha,” says a party leader.
Mayawati herself has avoided projections but promised, “Our party will show surprising results,” adding no party can form the government without the BSP’s support. She has never concealed her ambitions of becoming the first Dalit prime minister. And, party sources say, that would be the natural course of things should such a situation arise. “We want to be part of the government. I cannot say which side we will support, everything depends on Behenji and it will be on her terms,” said a Rajya Sabha member.
Mayawati started campaigning as early as May last year with Brahmin sammelans statewide. She has rejected any alliance, suffered in assembly elections in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi, and since worked on consolidating her core Dalit base. She has finalised the names of most candidates .
She has urged Muslims to unite with Dalits, promised to pursue the Sachar Committee recommendations, decided to field 18 Muslims, and given Muslims a number of key posts in the party. These come after three coalitions with the BJP, all forged by Kanshi Ram and which eventually collapsed. As party president over the last decade, Mayawati has chosen to go it alone but for a brief dalliance with the Left in 2009. She has gone beyond the Dalit, SC/ST and Muslim base, building a coalition with Brahmins in a deviation from the party’s early rhetoric.
Her present relations with the BJP are far from cordial; she has been constantly criticising the BJP and Narendra Modi and has pledged not to compromise “our movement” with “communal forces”. On issues such as FDI in retail, she has bailed out the UPA, besides siding with the Congress in the presidential election.
None of that is expected to come in the way of any support she offers any side, provide her takeaway is on her terms.