Exactly a decade ago, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Behenji Mayawati was the uncontested queen of Uttar Pradesh. But after three successive defeats – in the 2012 Assembly election, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the recently-held elections a few months ago – the Dalit leader has been substantially cut to size. Now with the candidature of Dalit leader Ram Nath Kovind as the BJP’s presidential candidate, her political troubles seem to have no end in sight.
The four-time chief minister of UP was once known as a tough administrator. She remains her party’s lone office-bearer, hardly moving out of home both during elections or otherwise.
Some say this is because she is totally confident of the state’s large Dalit population, as much as 21.1 per cent of UP’s 200 million people. Others believe she is taking them for granted, which is why she wasn’t able to win a single seat in the Lok Sabha and has been reduced to a mere 19 MLAs in the Yogi Adityanath-led Assembly.
Certainly, the news that the BJP is at the gates and is attacking her Dalit base, is beginning to sink in. The ruling party has been targeting the non-Jatav Dalit vote base (Mayawati is a Jatav), which is willing to break from the BSP, since the 2014 general elections. Note how this strategy did so brilliantly for the BJP in the 2017 Assembly polls.
In 2014, for example, central and eastern UP’s non-Jatav voter belonging to the Sonkar (Khatik), Dhobi, Valmiki, Pasi, Kori castes, did not vote for the BSP. The Sonkars had never been particularly enamoured of the BSP, but the Dhobi, Valmiki and Pasi castes became Mayawati’s ardent supporters after the “State Guest House” incident in 1995 when she was attacked by SP goons. She became chief minister at the time with BJP’s support; these non-Jatav castes never forgot the BJP option.
Today, ten years after she swept UP on the back of a cunningly crafted “rainbow alliance,” Mayawati needs a helping hand. She has allied with the Samajwadi Party before, in 1992-3, in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. But after the horrendous “State Guest House” incident, when SP goons tried to attack her, the BSP and SP have remained sworn antagonists.
Certainly, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, in the pursuit of power. Mayawati knows she needs Congress and SP help if she wants to get re-elected to Rajya Sabha when her term ends next year. She requires the votes of 34 MLAs to retain the seat; her party only has 19 MLAs.
Perhaps that’s why she accepted Sonia Gandhi’s invitation to dinner in Delhi recently, along with SP president Akhilesh Yadav. She may even share the stage on August 27 in Patna with him, to celebrate Lalu Prasad’s birthday. Akhilesh has publicly stated that he is keen on an alliance with “Bua,” but Mayawati has hesitated in going public.
If she hesitates much longer, there may not be much of Dalit support left to even exercise that choice. The BSP may soon be stripped of its national party status if it continues to lose at the hustings.
Mayawati knows her party is between the devil and the deep sea. She seems torn about opposing the BJP’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. She knows she could go against the popular mood if she does. The dilemma of UP’s former political queen is real.