Uttar Pradesh is home to a population of about 200 million people, greater than many countries including Pakistan, Australia and the United Kingdom. It is quite a well-known belief in India that the Chief Minister of UP is second in political stature only to the country’s Prime Minister. It comes as no surprise that the upcoming assembly elections of the state (2017) will be a heated affair. The three main parties to watch out for in these closely contested polls will be the SP, the BSP and the BJP. The INC which once held on to the state as its own impregnable fortress is more or less in the doldrums.
Read: UP Opinion Polls 2017
Winning the UP assembly polls is very important to PM Narendra Modi and the BJP. Not only will it secure for the party a territory that shall be vital in the 2019 general elections but also consolidate BJP’s position in the northern states. A sweeping victory in the UP assembly elections also means a stronger position for BJP in the Rajya Sabha. Members of the Rajya Sabha are elected by the state legislative assemblies by means of a vote through proportional representation. Be that as it may, Uttar Pradesh politics has always been strongly dominated by casteist and religious influences. Recent perceptions have started to wean the electorate away from the BJP influences and reports say Mayawati is, once again, emerging as one of the strongest contenders to the CM office.
It looks like Mayawati may be the one to stop the Modi wave from sweeping across the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Two Failures And Hope Again
The Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Election 2012 had been a turning point in the destiny of Mayawati. The BSP that had secured a thumping majority of 206 (of the 402 assembly seats) in 2007 state assembly polls fell flat in 2012, managing to gain the confidence of only 80 constituencies. Samajwadi Party, on the other hand secured 224 seats, and Akhilesh Yadav replaced Mayawati as the Chief Minister of the state. The same year, Mayawati filed her nomination for a seat in the Rajya Sabha and was elected unopposed.
If the 2012 UP State Assembly Elections left the party embarrassed, the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 were a complete disaster for Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The party ended up winning none of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state despite being deemed a strong contender. In comparison, the BSP had won 20 of the 80 seats, bagging about a quarter of the Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 General Election.
With the assembly elections of 2012 and general elections of 2014 pulling the brakes on Mayawati’s popularity (and her statue erecting spree), political analysts across the country were only eager to write her off. Indeed, the BSP has lain low through the past couple of years. At grass-roots level, though, there must have been a lot of work and campaigning done by party workers for the Mayawati wave to reemerge.
Merging Dalit And Muslim Issues
Mayawati was born into a family of workers (in the leather tanning industry) and raised in a slum in Delhi. Hailing from the Dalit community, one of the lowest rungs in India’s social order, Mayawati has risen this high riding on her success as the “Dalit icon”.
It is the unwavering support of thousands of Dalits in the rural regions of UP that has allowed the BSP to stay in the political arena. In 2012, the SP, too, started to pit Dalit leaders against the BSP and was largely successful in splitting the vote bank. Again in 2014, BJP was successful in luring the Dalit vote bank in large numbers. But it looks like Mayawati has once again started to take control of her stronghold.
Today, Mayawati has taken to combining both Dalit and Muslim issues in an effort to strengthen her vote bank. “Communal forces are becoming stronger,” she said addressing a rally of 300,000 supporters in Lucknow. Both Muslims and Dalits in the state are unsafe, she added. High unemployment among Dalits was another issue she had raised.
She accused the BJP and the SP of having tactical understanding and of splitting the UP social fabric along communal lines for political gains. “With Narendra Modi suddenly announcing construction of the Ramayana Sangrahalay (museum) in Ayodhya and Akhilesh Yadav was also quick to react by declaring of Ramleela theme park, both in the name of tourism promotion, clearly pointed that the two were linking religion with politics just to make advantage in the coming Assembly polls,” she claimed. Her rigid opposition to the construction of a temple at ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’, one of BJP’s key electoral promises, is also winning her the strong support of the Muslim vote bank in the state.
Benefiting From Likely SP Split
Another factor that may work out greatly in favour of Mayawati and the BSP is the split that Samajwadi Party may soon be facing, ahead of the party’s silver jubilee. SP General Secretary Ram Gopal Yadav has recently been expelled from the Party. Yadav is also a sitting Rajya Sabha MP. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s tensions with his uncle and party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav have been on the rise over the past few months.
Last month, Mulayam Singh Yadav had appointed his brother Shivpal Yadav as the SP Party President. A difference with Akhilesh Yadav forced him to quit within 2 days and resign the state cabinet as well. After a brief reconciliation, Shivpal Yadav was expelled from the cabinet once again last week. With Mulayam rooting for Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh, the SP seems to be in a state of deep acrimony and may head for a split soon. With the party, the state’s vote bank too will be split and the greatest beneficiaries will be Mayawati and her BSP.
Mayawati may rise yet again. She is a strong leader and has gained a foothold among the Dalits and Muslims in the state. To keep her popularity buoyant, however, Mayawati needs to reduce her egotistic spending on houses and statues and jewellery. The rural Dalits of UP may be strongly pitched in her favour, but the urban Dalits will still need to be convinced.