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.