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How Mayawati blew it

Why she junked the rainbow,fled to her core vote

Why she junked the rainbow,fled to her core vote

Why has the BSP lost despite the world-class F1 race tack,the Yamuna Expressway,the plus-seven per cent growth,and those impressive stone-and-granite symbols of Dalit pride which have changed the face of Lucknow and Noida? Ask anyone who travelled in UP in recent weeks. In the general sense of disaffection with the government,three points stand out.

One,complaints of pervasive corruption,so much so that the poor had to pay for getting their pension,Indira Awas or NREGA wages. Two,that hers was a “bureaucratic,insensitive” government,with no redress of grievances,not even when MLAs tried to intercede. Three,that it was a government which cared only for the Dalits.

Interestingly,unlike others,the Dalits generally remained enthusiastic supporters of Mayawati,crediting her for giving them a sense of security and dignity. Post-results,it seems,Mayawati has again become a leader of Dalits,exactly where she stood before 2007 when,for the first time,non-Dalits voted for the BSP in large numbers,helping it get an absolute majority.

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Her promise of restoring the rule of law had then caught the imagination of a people fed up with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s jungle raj. She changed her language: from a champion of Bahujan,she turned into a votary of Sarvajan. Her party shed its old,anti-upper caste rhetoric. Did she rise to the demands of an inclusive,sarvajan mandate? For an answer,let us trace,briefly,the journey of her last five years.

After taking over as chief minister in May 2007,she announced two bold initiatives: the over 1,000-km-long Ganga Expressway project and a scheme to open the agriculture sector to private investment. The first,running from Basti in the east to Noida in the west,could have opened up vast tracts in UP’s most backward hinterland to urbanisation,and growth that comes with it. But it was stalled by land acquisition and environmental roadblocks. The second,which had the potential of sowing the seeds of a green revolution,was abandoned because,as Mayawati said,intelligence reports suggested that farmers did not like the idea.

She took a third initiative: she started work on those grand memorials,a total of five in Lucknow,including two expansive ones dedicated to Kanshi Ram and B.R. Ambekdar,and a third,equally huge,in Noida,each costing several thousand crores. Everywhere,she installed her own statues along with those of Ambedkar,Kanshi Ram,Jyotiba Phule,Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj and other Dalit icons — as many as 12 in Lucknow alone. In a state which has for long ranked among the lowest in socio-economic indicators,how could this promote Sarvajan Hitay? This was Mayawati’s first self-inflicted blow to her sarvajan platform.

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Her party leaders,in the meantime,went berserk. Within six months,a minister was allegedly involved in the murder of a girl in Faizabad; after another six months,an MLA was arrested for rape in Agra. Another six months and a third MLA,along with the district BSP president,and helped by the police,forced his way into the house of an engineer in Auraiya and allegedly tortured him to death just because he refused to pay for Mayawati’s birthday celebrations. Many more such incidents followed.

Mayawati couldn’t stop any of this.

So,when the Lok Sabha elections were held in 2009,the BSP found itself beaten to the third place by the SP and the Congress. Worse,it could win only two of the 17 reserved seats. This was stage one of Mayawati’s undoing.

Assembly elections were almost three years away. If she wanted,Mayawati could still make amends and push administrative and policy initiatives to regain public trust. But rattled by the defeat,she took a big leap back: she junked her inclusivist mandate and sought the safety of her traditional Dalit supporters.

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She announced that party general secretary Satish Mishra,who many had begun to see as her No 2,would stay away from politics and,instead,concentrate on the party’s legal work. The State Advisory Committee under Mishra,which had been constituted on the pattern of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Committee,was rendered defunct. Mishra was no mass leader and his belittling did not alienate any section. But Mayawati’s action sent out a message to the Dalits that she is the only leader of the BSP,that no one else mattered. Non-Dalits were also listening.

What damaged Mayawati and the BSP hard was the systematic emasculation of her MLAs. All of them were answerable to the party’s local coordinators,who are regarded as Mayawati’s eyes and ears. Most of them are Dalits. Without the coordinator’s approval,an MLA could not even hold a meeting or make a statement to the media. If there was a local grievance,the coordinator would decide how it would be taken up and with whom. They kept everyone on a tight leash. This destroyed the MLAs politically,particularly the non-Dalits.

Mayawati kept underlining that the Dalit agenda remained her top priority,nothing else. She gave a new thrust to the Ambedkar village project,under which basic facilities are provided on priority in villages that have substantial Dalit population. She introduced reservation for Dalits in contracts. She ordered that the government pay membership fee of Dalits so that they became members of primary cooperative societies and,therefore,eligible for loans. The DGP was told to personally visit homes where a Dalit was the victim of a crime. She ordered a special campaign to give land to the landless Dalits. All this was as it should be. But in all other matters,the administration kept functioning in its usual uncaring,inefficient ways. For example,the police would promptly attend to complaints of Dalits,not others. And if the complaint was against a BSP man,it would not even lodge an FIR until it got a green signal from above. It was this reverse discrimination that blew apart her Sarvajan Hitay slogan.

Meanwhile,crime and corruption flourished; her trusted men Babu Singh Kushwaha and Naseemuddin Siddiqui were caught for alleged corruption. Two CMOs were shot dead in Lucknow,a deputy CMO was found dead in Lucknow jail under suspicious circumstances. As Mayawati increasingly came under attack,she fled to the safety of her core vote. Read her speeches over the last few years and the refrain is that everyone is gripped by “Dalit-virodhi mansikta”,trying to bring down a “Dalit ki beti”. Even Julian Assange was “Dalit virodhi”.

The undoing of Mayawati’s sarvajan platform was complete. Since in a state like UP,no one can win an election by courting one or two communities,the BSP’s defeat was a foregone conclusion.

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Any lessons from this for the Samajwadi Party? One,the SP should recognise that it has got a mandate for governance from a people fed up with Mayawati’s misrule. Two,it has to respect the fact that behind its victory is the support and goodwill of people across Hindu-Muslim,forward-backward and rural-urban divides. Nothing else can explain its win in Lucknow. It should remember that as long as it was a party of Yadavs and Muslims,its best score was 143 in 2002. Three,the SP should be on guard against those who can tar the new government. Unlike Mulayam Singh Yadav,who has avoided using the stick even when necessary,Akhilesh Yadav has shown he is made of sterner stuff. The space and support the father gives the son could hold the key to the SP’s success.

virender.kumar@expressindia.com

First published on: 08-03-2012 at 03:51:15 am
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