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What is Mayawati’s future in UP?

Azad, the Dalit youth leader, is already claiming to be the future leader of the Dalit-Bahujan movement in Uttar Pradesh.

Kalyani Shankar | New Delhi |

The BSP supremo and fourtime Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati might have lost her political glamour but the game is not over. She was once dreaming of becoming the prime minister but her party’s gradual slide makes one question whether she will be relevant in U.P? Mayawati is coming into focus because of the Assembly polls in early 2022.

There are doubts about Mayawati’s politics because she has gone into a shell since the 2019 polls and has not come out of her bungalow. The other parties like the BJP, SP, and even Congress have begun their poll preparations but the BSP’s future is not known.

Rumours are afloat that Mayawati is yet to make up her mind whether she wants to reclaim her position in the opposition turf. With the gradual slide of the BSP, the other political parties in the state are eyeing the Dalit space opening up before the 2022 polls. Moreover, the BSP has not been visible in the controversial mass movements like the anti-CAA protests, vaccine controversy or farmer’s protests, etc.

Her famous social engineering of the Dalits, Muslims and Brahmin in 2007 is not there anymore because in the last few years a substantial chunk of Dalits, particularly the Jatavs (Mayawati’s caste) have shifted to BJP. The Priyanka Gandhi-led Congress in UP is also eyeing the Dalits. Muslims have been divided between the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and the Congress. Brahmins are back with the BJP.

So unless she manages to get back her core support she will not succeed. In the recent Panchayat polls, the SP did well, followed by the BJP and the BSP came a distant third. Mayawati has kept her cards close to her chest. With the latest expulsions, the number of BSP MLAs has been reduced to 11 from 19. She has also announced that her party will go it alone in the 2022 polls.

“While our votes are easily transferred to the alliance partners, the latter’s votes are not….we have suffered from electoral alliances in the past…we have therefore decided to go it alone in the next year’s UP Assembly polls,” the BSP supremo declared recently.

The BSP’s slide in the past decade has been gradual. In the 2012 UP Assembly election, the party secured nearly 26 per cent vote share, down from 30 per cent in 2007. But in the 2017 polls, this fell to 22 per cent and dropped further to 19.3 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The party won 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, nil in 2014 and 10 in 2019. Significantly a month after the results were declared, Mayawati had called off the alliance with the SP.

Since then, in many political positions she appears to favour the ruling BJP at the Centre and the state resulting in the opposition calling her party the BJP’s B team. The question is whether Mayawati will support the BJP, overtly or covertly. After all, the BSP has had a long history of political alliances — both pre-poll and postpoll – with the Congress, BJP, and SP.

Mayawati needs to understand the changing world since the outbreak of Covid and change her strategy according to the new situation. Her challenges are many. The first is whether she could take advantage of the disenchantment of Brahmins with the BJP. The  BSP had managed to get 30 per cent of the Brahmin vote in the 2007 Assembly polls. Secondly, with social media gaining ground in communication, she must strengthen the party’s profile on the social media platform. Thirdly, there is the emergence of new players like Chandrashekhar Azad who are eyeing Dalit votes.

Azad, the Dalit youth leader, is already claiming to be the future leader of the Dalit-Bahujan movement in Uttar Pradesh. His Bhim Army is posing a threat to the  BSP in Western U.P. Azad will face his first test in the 2022 polls. For the BSP, splintering the Dalit votes is not a solution. Fourthly, the BSP has lost almost all the leaders groomed by party founder Kanshiram.

Some are dead and others have been shunted out. The result is that there are no popular, second-rung leaders today. Many prominent faces of the BSP have also joined the rival Samajwadi Party and more shifts are expected. Fifthly,  Mayawati is perceived to be soft on the BJP. She now considers the SP as her main rival. She has declared recently that she would go to any length to defeat the SP even if it meant supporting the BJP.

However, when eyebrows were raised she quickly amended this statement and clarified she would rather retire than support the BJP. U.P elections are important as it is the biggest state. A divided opposition will result in a multi-cornered fight. This will be beneficial to the BJP.  Mayawati needs a new narrative.

But it is too early to predict as elections are eight months away. Mayawati can keep her options open for the post-poll scenario provided she keeps her flock together and adds more voters.