Mayawati wants to save Uttar Pradesh but not clear from whom or from what

Fast becoming politically irrelevant, Mayawati possibly hopes to revive her party’s fortunes with a little help from BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, it is 'Mayawati Bachao' plan which is being put in play

Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

Purnima S Tripathi

When the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) chief Mayawati issued the battle cry of ‘Uttar Pradesh Bachao’, wags in Lucknow wondered aloud at what she meant. Could she have meant that UP needed to be saved from her, asked one of them with his tongue in cheek. Others said they were trying to recall when Uttar Pradesh was saved last and from what or from whom.

Others recalled her frenetic construction activities. Did that save UP, they wondered. Her building spree included erecting statues of herself, her mentor Kanshi Ram’s and of course those of B.R. Ambedkar’s. Statues of elephants, her party symbol, came up everywhere and in all sizes. Then there was the Taj corridor, a project to commercially develop the backyard of the Taj Mahal in Agra, erecting malls and tourist amenities including hotels and resorts. No, she failed to save Agra.

Even when the BSP in 2007, fighting alone, won 206 seats in the Assembly of 403 members, she had a golden opportunity to save Uttar Pradesh. It was for the first time in a decade that any party had got a simple majority in the assembly. But a self-obsessed Mayawati got busy with her pet passion of building red stone statues, parks and memorials. The lasting memory of her tenure remains her lavish birthday parties on January 15 with her flaunting huge diamond accessories.

“Given the fact that she had complete control over her government, she could have brought about some real change, but she did not seem to have any vision for the state,” recalls former bureaucrat P.L. Punia, who was her close aide at the time (Full disclosure: Punia is now with the Congress).

“She doesn’t have any understanding of governance,” he says, recalling instances when officers had a hard time convincing her of crucial decisions. Besides, he says, her arrogance and high-handed behaviour with officers was a big put off for those working closely with her, resulting in unnecessary delays in decision making.

What Uttar Pradesh actually needs today is a West Bengal like consolidation of anti-BJP votes in favour of the strongest party in the fray, if the rising communal temperature is to be contained, says a veteran journalist in Lucknow. Something similar, he recalls, had been witnessed in Bihar too in the 2015 assembly election when the Modi juggernaut was halted by the RJD-JD(U)- Congress alliance in the state.

But her declaration that the BSP would contest the election alone seems designed to pave the way for a victory parade for the BJP in 2022, the journalist quipped. Indeed, she had declared last year itself that she would even support the BJP in order to defeat her principal rival, Samajwadi Party.

This stance baffled observers because the two parties had contested the 2019 general election together in UP. Such an alliance had seemed impossible till then. But while the alliance failed to stop BJP’s sweep, it managed to pick up 15 Lok Sabha seats. BSP alone had won 10 seats in the Lok Sabha, which was among its best performances. The two parties polled an impressive 40% of the votes too.

The alliance has even greater relevance in state elections, point out astute observers of the state. But common sense normally eludes Mayawati who had called off the alliance barely a month after the Lok Sabha election. It was then attributed to pressure exerted by the Union Government and agencies like the CBI and ED, which have been investigating corruption charges against her for what seems like an eternity. It never seems to get close to closure!

What is even more baffling is that Mayawati has been largely absent in the public sphere since the 2019 election. She was missing when several cities erupted in protest against the CAA. She was quiet when Yogi Adityanath dealt with the protests with a heavy hand. She supported the abrogation of Article 370 and on the contentious Triple Talaq bill, which sought to criminalise a civil act, she walked out before voting in Parliament. Her absence from the farmers’ protests against the new farm laws has been conspicuous. The perception that she and the BJP have a tacit understanding was strengthened when BJP helped her candidate Ramji Gautham to win a seat in the Rajya Sabha, despite the BSP not having the numbers. The BJP is the ruling party in UP today, with 312 seats and over 40 percent vote share. And the upper castes, many of whom had extended their support to the BSP in 2007 are unlikely to go back to her. With the Samajwadi Party also declaring that it would go alone in 2022 and the AIMIM declaring that it would put up 100 candidates in the state, conditions seem favourable for the BJP.

AIMIM had won five seats out of the 20 it contested in Bihar. In Bengal it fielded seven candidates and all of them lost. But it seems hopeful of doing better in UP.

So, who is Mayawati out to save? Mayawati is fast becoming politically irrelevant in the state and she possibly hopes to revive her party’s fortune in UP with a little nudge and help from the BJP. It will be a small price for the BJP to pay to keep the opposition at bay.

If this assessment is correct then a more apt battle cry for the BSP will be ‘Mayawati Bachao’.

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