Mayawati’s strange inertia

The BSP, which once held sway in Uttar Pradesh, has fallen prey to her rigid way of functioning and lack of enterprise

December 30, 2021 12:15 am | Updated 07:52 am IST

BSP chief Mayawati. File

BSP chief Mayawati. File

During a rare interaction with the media on December 23, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati was asked why she had still not stepped out and held rallies for the Uttar Pradesh elections, scheduled for February-March, despite her chief opponents having already hit the ground running. She dismissively responded that her rivals were going overboard with public rallies because they were “anxious”. The BSP workers were busy working at the booth level, Ms. Mayawati said. And whenever she plans to hold rallies, she will inform the media. Her reply, though not surprising, provides a glimpse into her fading relevance in U.P.’s everyday power politics, a self-indictment of sorts.

Defections, rebellions, sackings

For the BSP, this election, which it will contest alone , is less about coming to power and more about staying relevant. This is a remarkable fall for a party which, in 2007, stormed to a historic majority on its own providing the State’s first Dalit woman Chief Minister a fourth term. Since 2012, when Ms. Mayawati conceded power but trailed the Samajwadi Party (SP) by just 3.2% votes, she has faced repeated electoral upsets. In 2016-17, after the BJP took hold of her Other Backward Classes (OBC) contingent, Ms. Mayawati was forced to play the idealistic Dalit-Muslim card. Though she got 22% of the votes, the BSP won only 19 seats, a massive 306 behind the winning NDA alliance in the 403-member Assembly. The BSP has been ravaged by defections, rebellions and random sackings, falling prey to her rigidity, political inconsistency, erratic shifts in messaging and unwillingness to innovate or form smart alliances.


In the last six months, Ms. Mayawati has had to appoint new leaders in the Assembly twice after previous ones embarrassingly quit the party. A similar exodus was seen prior to the 2017 election when several key leaders, including main backward caste face Swami Prasad Maurya, quit, accusing Ms. Mayawati of auctioning tickets. This time, the rebellions have been quieter but equally damning as the BSP has no sign of a secondary leadership remaining. Several leaders such as Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar who stuck with the BSP movement through thick and thin have flocked to the rival SP, leaving the BSP a reduced force devoid of charismatic faces or caste leaders other than Ms. Mayawati herself. In fact, only three of the 19 MLAs of 2017 remain with her today.

Ms. Mayawati’s lack of communication, over-reliance on redundant arithmetic, aversion to agitational politics, and failure to highlight the concerns of Dalits and OBCs even when the BJP offered her issues on a platter have pushed her further out of the discourse. Barring a few customary appearances and tweets, she has been missing from the public eye, not even making the effort to reach out to her core constituency or offering solace to the aggrieved, such as in the Hathras case or during the 2018 Bharat Bandh held against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act.

While Narendra Modi, Yogi Adityanath, Akhilesh Yadav, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are leading from the front in their respective campaigns, Ms. Mayawati is still dependent on her Brahmin lieutenant, Satish Chandra Mishra, to address public meetings and tour the State. Mr. Mishra has not only added elements of Hindutva politics to the BSP pitch, which seems heavily focused on Brahmin appeasement, but with Ms. Mayawati’s nephew and Mr. Mishra’s son, wife and son-in-law taking centre stage in this campaign, the BSP today increasingly appears like a party dictated by two families. This is a far cry from the organisation managed by Kanshiram.


Straying to the Samajwadi Party

So stark has been Ms. Mayawati’s absence and the blunting of her OBC-Dalit narrative to ‘ sarvajan hitai, sarvajan sukhai (good of all, happiness of all)’, her version of ‘ sabka saath, sabka vikas (support for all, development for all)’, that Mr. Yadav has sought to embrace the vacant Bahujan space to expand his outreach among OBCs and Dalits, including her loyal and till now impregnable Jatav base, constituting 12-13% of the population. Besides the fading nostalgia for the decent law-and-order situation of its previous rule, the BSP’s pitch has little to offer in an already crowded space.

Also read | BSP will not go with BJP to form govt. in U.P., says Satish Chandra Misra

Ms. Mayawati can retain a major chunk of her traditional vote base thanks to caste affiliations and tactical candidate distribution. But the lacklustre, hackneyed approach of caste arithmetic without a larger narrative, her increasing disconnect with the non-Jatav voters and her reluctance to take an unequivocal position against the incumbent have given way to the possibility that a section of her voters could stray to the SP. For these reasons, the BSP remains a factor in the 2022 election, but not a contender. In a polarised contest between Mr. Yadav and Mr. Adityanath, a hung Assembly seems like her best bet.


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