The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader, Mayawati, recently decided to not contest the Lok Sabha elections. This decision surprised almost everyone. Political analysts had been speculating that Mayawati could emerge as one of the main claimants for the prime minister’s post if the Opposition parties were in the running to form a government. Her supporters, especially those from the Dalit-Bahujan communities, also want to see the BSP chief as the PM.
Mayawati has, however, not ruled herself out as a contender for the PM’s office and has asked her supporters to not be disappointed by her decision because a person has six months after assuming office to get elected to Parliament. She has also asserted that the BSP is not just a political party but also a movement. Strengthening the movement required her to take hard decisions, she has said. Her decision to not contest elections was a sacrifice for the Bahujan movement, she added. Mayawati has also assured the BSP members and supporters that she will work for the victory of each candidate of the BSP-SP gathbandhan.
But what are the political reasons behind Mayawati’s decision? An obvious reason could be the prospect of a tight contest on every seat in UP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Mayawati would want to devote as much time as possible to campaign for the gathbandhan’s candidates. To create chemistry between the supporters of allied parties is a big challenge. Mayawati could be seeing herself as performing that role. There could also be a message to her alliance partners that she is pursuing a larger goal in national politics. Her sacrifice has elevated her stature above other leaders of the gathbandhan. Her decision is a signal of sorts to the partners that should the situation arise, they should support her candidature for the PM’s post.
Second, Mayawati’s decision is also a response to critics within the Dalit-Bahujan movement like Vaman Meshram, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan and a few other Ambedkarites, who see the BSP as just another political party that is only interested in power. They want to create space for a movement within the realm of Dalit politics. That, of course, could weaken Mayawati’s hegemony over Dalit politics. That is why she has emphasised that the BSP is not just a party, but also a movement.
Third, Priyanka Gandhi’s entry in UP politics has made the situation tough for the gathbandhan. Priyanka’s leadership has given a new lease of life to the Congress in the state. Almost a dead force before her entry, the Congress is fast emerging as a third bloc, which could make inroads in the gathbandhan’s support base, especially the Muslim and Dalits. These communities were part of the Congress’s support base for a long time in UP and the party wants to revive its standing amongst them. Priyanka’s recent visit in the region that stretches from Prayagraj to Varanasi has created a deep impact on the people of the area. She focused on the Most Backward Castes, Dalits, poor, women and artisan communities who are on the margins of the paradigm of development pursued by the BJP-led NDA government. The Nishads and the weaving community — comprising both Muslims and Hindus — were at the centre of her mobilisation efforts. She seemed to have struck a chord with the people as well as the Congress workers.
All this could have created an apprehension in Mayawati’s mind that a section of the BSP’s support base is shifting to the Congress. Priyanka’s meeting with the Dalit youth leader Chandrashekhar has already created a soft corner for her amongst a section of the community. This also explains Mayawati’s recent outbursts against the Congress.
The Congress may also attract Brahmin and forward caste voters, who form the BJP’s support base. But this may pose challenges for the gathbandhan as well. The alliance’s early edge over the BJP could diminish with the Congress emerging as the third bloc in UP. Mayawati would have realised this challenge. Her decision to not contest the Lok Sabha election is thus a fallout of several political imperatives. It is also rife with several political implications.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 28, 2019 under the title ‘Mayawati’s Move’. The writer is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.