It was a winter night in 1977 when Mayawati met Kanshi Ram, the respected leader of the Dalits. And life changed forever for the young lady who was then aspiring to be an IAS officer. Kanshi Ram inspired her to join the Dalit cause; he promised to make her a big leader one day so that row of collectors would stand in front of her with files. There was no looking back after that. Her father tried to dissuade her from becoming a political activist, but it didn’t work. Mayawati was determined to work for the Dalits and become their champion. She did manage to achieve it eventually, posing serious challenge to the established order. 

Mayawati occupied the office of Uttar Pradesh chief minister four times. But her rise to power was not easy. She had to battle the caste equations of Uttar Pradesh tooth and nail, to establish her party — a task that was entrusted upon her by Kanshi Ram. In the end, Mayawati earned the reputation of being an unyielding caste warrior — her party became a force to reckon with in the political landscape of the state and later in other parts of the country. 

It&’s true that Mayawati suffered because of clumsy political alliances thrice — 1995, 1997 and 2002 — when she served as UP chief minister for a short span of time. But she never gave up. Mayawati promoted the Dalit cause at every opportunity, besides striving to better the infrastructure. She pushed the administration to enforce a law so that the Dalits, who have been victims of caste-based violence, get justice. It consolidated her vote base, though people in the upper caste in the state were not happy. 

Over the years, as she moved in and out of power, Mayawati realised one thing: she has to move beyond her identity as the champion of the Dalits. She understood that she has to transcend the caste barriers that plague the society. It was a kind of political engineering that she envisaged and it did work in 2007, when Mayawati won in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election to become the chief minister for the fourth time. The Bahujan Samaj Party garnered over 36 per cent vote share, winning 206 seats in the 403-seat Assembly. 

As the chief minister, Mayawati launched many public work projects. New highways, power stations and water-purification plants were built during her tenure. It was widely believed that the law and order of Uttar Pradesh improved as well. On the whole, it was much different from lawlessness of the previous regime. 

Yet, in 2012, she lost to the Samajwadi Party. Her vote bank was in disarray. Her land acquisition policy, which was criticised by the Supreme Court, also went against her. There were major corruption charges against Mayawati and the rival parties were unrelenting in their attack on her administration. So Mayawati had to go: her party won just 80 seats in the Assembly, while the Samajwadi Party won 224 seats. Mayawati&’s luck didn’t change even in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party didn’t win any seat across the country. The presence of the BSP in the state assemblies is also negligible. The party didn’t win a single seat in the 2015 Bihar Assembly election. 

Uttar Pradesh will go to polls in 2017. While the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party are all set to fight tooth and nail, one wonders what Mayawati would do. She has already declared that there would not be any alliance with any other party. Will that help? 

Her party leaders sound confident. BSP spokesperson Sudhindra Bhadoria says: “People of Uttar Pradesh know that under Mayawati&’s leadership the citizens would remain safe. We don’t need to ally with anyone. The people are our biggest allies”. 

It&’s a fact that the Samajwadi Party government of Akhilesh Yadav has not been able to deliver on many fronts. The law and order of Uttar Pradesh has been poor; there have been numerous incidents of communal riots; unemployment is increasing; and investments in the state have not increased. Will Mayawati be able to cash in on the growing public disenchantment with the Akhilesh government? 

Bhadoria says, when Mayawati was the chief minister of the state, the Gross Domestic Product of Uttar Pradesh was at about nine per cent. “It&’s because, as the chief minister, Mayawati strengthened law and order of the state. Industrialists had confidence in her and investments poured in. Work environment was better and people were safe on the streets. Now, under Akhilesh Yadav government, the picture is bleak. So, people of the state are looking for a change. They would once again repose their faith in Mayawati.” 

But in a state like Uttar Pradesh, it&’s the caste equation which matters the most. What is Mayawati doing about it? According to political observers, Mayawati is now focusing on the larger picture. She is trying to consolidate the Dalit-Muslim vote bank ahead of the 2017 Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. The focus is on the youth; more and more youngsters are being inducted as party office-bearers. The party is also eyeing the OBCs except the Yadav and the Lodhs who don’t support the BSP in any which way. Moreover, she also wants the Brahmins and the Rajputs to be part of her scheme of things. She is also strategising on how to counter the RSS machinations to appropriate the legacy of BR Ambedkar. Keeping all this in mind, Mayawati is working silently, keeping a low profile,rather than going on an overdrive like her rivals. The caste warrior of India is gearing up for the battle. She never gives up.