India Today - - COVER STORY -

sup­ported the BSP in the 2002 assem­bly elec­tions, 17.6 per cent in 2007 and 20.4 per cent in 2012. By fol­low­ing a strat­egy of field­ing the high­est num­ber of Mus­lim can­di­dates com­pared to other po­lit­i­cal par­ties in con­stituen­cies with sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity pres­ence, Mayawati is aim­ing at at­tract­ing a higher per­cent­age of Mus­lim vot­ers in 2017. The fo­cus on a Dalit-Mus­lim al­liance is also dic­tated by elec­toral compulsions and a change in strat­egy. Af­ter los­ing power in the 2012 assem­bly elec­tions and fail­ing to win a sin­gle seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions, a des­per­ate Mayawati re­alised the fu­til­ity of her ear­lier strat­egy of at­tempt­ing to forge di­rect al­liances with up­per castes and OBC lead­ers. The over­reach be­yond her base vote worked in 2007 but boomeranged in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, she lost an es­ti­mated 15 per cent of her Dalit vote­base and failed to at­tract ei­ther the up­per castes or the OBCs. On top of that, she was sad­dled with OBC and up­per caste lead­ers who switch sides the mo­ment the BSP de­nies tickets to them. Swami Prasad Mau­rya and sev­eral other rebels quit the BSP re­cently af­ter at­tack­ing Mayawati for sell­ing tickets to the high­est bid­der.

Will such res­ig­na­tions af­fect the BSP’s elec­toral for­tunes? Mau­rya says it will turn a sure vic­tory into de­feat. The ev­i­dence he puts out: “Be­fore April this year, all the opin­ion polls were pre­dict­ing the BSP as the fron­trun­ner for the 2017 polls. Today, all of them are pre­dict­ing the BSP as the third player. The only thing that changed be­tween April and today is that I and sev­eral other BSP lead­ers have quit the party. She is fin­ished without us.”

BSP spokesper­son Sud­hin­dra Bhado­ria strongly dis­agrees on this. “In the 2007 elec­tions, over 40 rebels switched sides when de­nied tickets, but the BSP still won hands down and formed the govern­ment. Mayawati is the only star at­trac­tion who can fetch votes in the BSP, no other leader re­ally mat­ters.” says, “She is known to be tough on crime. Be­tween 2007-2012, she also built lots of roads, ur­ban hous­ing projects, a new sewage sys­tem for Luc­know and nu­mer­ous Ambed­kar parks.”

With law and order touch­ing a new low un­der the Akhilesh Ya­davled Sa­ma­jwadi Party govern­ment, Mayawati’s tough stand on crime has at­tracted even sec­tions of the mid­dle class. She makes it a point in every rally to ham­mer the de­clin­ing stan­dards of law and order—the land­grabs, the Mathura in­ci­dent, the in­creas­ing cases of crime against women, com­mu­nal clashes such as Muzaffarnagar and oth­ers—un­der the SP govern­ment.

On the is­sue of a pre-poll al­liance with the Congress, most BSP lead­ers be­lieve that it would en­sure vic­tory against the BJP and the SP. How­ever, they ar­gue that the BSP’s past ex­pe­ri­ence with pre-poll al­liances shows that other par­ties are un­able to trans­fer their vote to the BSP, while the BSP man­ages to trans­fer its base vote to the al­liance part­ner. One BSP leader on con­di­tion of anonymity pointed out, “This time it’ll be good if the Congress con­tests all 403 seats. Even if they don’t win many, they will cut into the up­per caste (mainly Brah­min votes) of the BJP.”

The ac­tion of the cow vig­i­lantes against poor Dal­its has set back the BJP’s com­mu­nity out­reach pro­gramme. As one BSP leader pointed out, “The BJP failed in its at­tempt to hi­jack a sec­tion of the Dalit vote from the BSP. So it is now busy at­tempt­ing to break the party by lur­ing BSP rebels who were de­nied tickets. Wait till these lead­ers be­gin their re­bel­lion in the BJP camp.”

Mau­rya, mean­while, points out that the BSP’s sup­port among nonJatav Dal­its and the most back­ward castes has sig­nif­i­cantly eroded in the past. The BJP has pen­e­trated Dalit com­mu­ni­ties such as Valmikis, Pa­sis and oth­ers, es­pe­cially in western UP.

Ac­cord­ing to CSDS data, the BSP’s non-Jatav Dalit base first de­clined from 60.6 per cent in 1996 to 55 per cent in 2002 and 2007. How­ever, it dropped fur­ther to 48 per cent in 2012. The new at­tempt by Mayawati to con­sol­i­date all Dal­its un­der one um­brella is with the slo­gan ‘Sar­va­jan Hi­tay, Sar­va­jan Sukhay (Gain for All, Wel­fare of All).

Mayawati turned 60 last Jan­uary 15. In the past, her birth­days used to be lav­ish af­fairs, cel­e­brated with pomp and pageantry. This year, it was un­usu­ally sober and yet man­aged to be a great ex­er­cise in po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion. Her two po­lit­i­cal set­backs—2012 and 2014—have taught her tough lessons in pol­i­tics. In this up­hill battle for the 2017 elec­tions, the forg­ing of the Dal­itMus­lim com­bi­na­tion is es­sen­tial but is still not suf­fi­cient to win the war. Her past achieve­ments have also been soiled by al­le­ga­tions of ve­nal­ity. She needs to come up with a win­ning for­mula, a new agenda over and above Dalit-Mus­lim unity. A bet­ter and more ef­fec­tive use of so­cial me­dia will also help her reach a larger au­di­ence. She needs to re­struc­ture her party by del­e­gat­ing au­thor­ity at all levels to pre­vent de­ser­tions. Build­ing some kind of ma­ha­gath­band­han (grand al­liance), like in Bi­har, might prove to be the safest strat­egy for win­ning the war.

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