One does not require a keen political eye to detect the disingenuity, lethargy and arrogance behind Mayawati’s assessment of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s humiliating defeat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The party lost almost 10% of its vote share from 2017 and was reduced to one seat. This means it failed to attract voters across caste and religion.
The upsurge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s majoritarian narrative notwithstanding, the BSP’s consistent decline can be attributed primarily to Ms. Mayawati’s own failures. This includes her dilution of the Bahujan narrative, poorly strategised appeasement of the minority ‘upper castes’, authoritative style, and mismanagement of organisation.
Rather than correcting these deficiencies, Ms. Mayawati chose to blame the Muslims not just for her defeat and the BJP’s victory, but also for, in her view, influencing the voting pattern of the Hindus. According to her, because Muslims mobilised almost en bloc behind the Samajwadi Party (SP)-led alliance, the Hindus favoured the BJP, despite harbouring discontentment towards the party, as they feared the rule of goondas and corrupt leaders under the SP. Even if 50% of the State’s 19.5% Muslims had voted for the BSP, the Hindu voters, especially the Brahmins, who were unhappy with the BJP would have voted for the BSP, she noted.
This bizarre postulation appears to be her attempt to shift the blame from herself. But it also displays how parties claiming to espouse social justice for the backward and downtrodden Hindu castes rely significantly on Muslim support. Over the last three decades, Muslim voters have regularly backed the BSP even though Ms. Mayawati played ball with the BJP and never maintained a firm political stand against the Hindu Right. In the 2022 election, the Muslims, who feel subjugated under BJP rule, chose the best electoral option for themselves: the SP-led alliance. The Akhilesh Yadav-led alliance ran an aggressive campaign, turning the election into a two-way polarised contest.
Ms. Mayawati, who has been an absentee politician for a decade, was slow to start her campaign. She failed to position herself as a credible opposition leader and grossly mismanaged the backward caste and Dalit leadership that she had at her disposal. She ceded the Bahujan space and alienated Muslims through her dubious political stance. She tried to lure Muslim voters by repeatedly mentioning the number of candidates she had fielded from the community, but did nothing to earn their trust. She inducted elements of Hindutva into her election campaign, a definite way to repel the Muslims.
Ms. Mayawati’s defeat is a reminder of the limits of her transactional electoral strategy in the absence of an organic ideology, narrative, mass connect or leadership. If she wants to save her party, Ms. Maywati must ask why Dalits, including her own community (Jatavs), are not voting for her, as they did earlier, and are attracted to an RSS-led Hindu nationalism instead. What she has done to bridge the gap between Jatav and non-Jatav Dalits? Why don’t Other Backward Classes view her as an option? And why does she think ‘upper castes’ will vote for a party whose foundation opposes their hegemony?
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Ms. Mayawati has been unable to infuse the BSP’s Ambedkarite ideology into a wider base of downtrodden communities. By pinning the blame on Muslims for her failed campaigns and juxtaposing it with the loyalty of Jatavs, she risks creating a long-term divide between Dalits and Muslims. It is time the Dalit intelligentsia ask tougher questions of Ms. Mayawati, hold her accountable, and demand that she addresses the true reasons for what appears like an irreversible decline of the BSP.