Uttar Pradesh: Mayawati’s heir and the Ram Mandir brouhaha

What worries the BJP in UP and how ‘familism’ has become a non-issue in Indian politics

SP chief Akhilesh Yadav with RLD president Jayant Chaudhary
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav with RLD president Jayant Chaudhary
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Nagendra

SP’s worries scale down as BJP’s scale up

According to reports (and speculations) the party that suffered the biggest setback in Uttar Pradesh since the 2022 assembly elections was the Samajwadi Party (SP). Not surprising, it being the most prominent opposition party in the state.

The biggest blow had come from the headlines that its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), might go off with the BJP. According to the grapevine, RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary had received an attractive offer from the BJP brass, which was troubling SP president Akhilesh Yadav.

At present, however, the SP seems to be recovering from those shocks and resultant self-doubts. While the results of the recently concluded elections in five states may have shocked the Congress and the opposition bloc, the SP has some reason to be reassured. Pre-poll media speculations of Jayant Chaudhary drawing closer to the BJP were laid to rest when he allied with the Congress in Rajasthan.

The Congress’s gesture of leaving the Bharatpur seat for RLD also sent a message. If Jayant’s closeness with the Congress was worrying Akhilesh, those doubts were put aside last week when Jayant clearly announced at the party’s state executive meeting in Lucknow that RLD would “remain with the Samajwadi Party”.

The tie with the SP was further strengthened by dittoing the stand taken by Akhilesh in the context of 2024 that “the decision be taken by the stronger contender”.

And while it won’t be easy for the opposition, if the SP–RLD combine holds, and other constituents of the INDIA bloc also join the bandwagon, it will definitely create some difficulties for the BJP.

The BJP has an inkling that the farmers and Jats of Western UP are unhappy with it, and this is likely to benefit Jayant, the Chaudhary scion. The biggest weakness of the BJP in 2024 will be that the strongest force in Western UP might not support it.

Journalist Ranjeev, who keeps an eye on Purvanchal, agrees. Just as the BJP had suffered setbacks in Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh and Ghazipur in the 2022 assembly elections and had its ambitions dashed in Ghosi later, Purvanchal is going to be challenging. Also, since most of its ‘friends’ (NDA allies) are from Purvanchal, the BJP will have to handle allies as well as the OBC factor there.

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Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) national president Mayawati
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) national president Mayawati

Is December Mayawati’s decision-making month?

BSP supremo Mayawati has revealed her cards. She has formally declared nephew Akash Anand as her successor, saying, “In my absence, Akash will take charge of the party.” Incidentally, Akash is the son of Mayawati’s brother Anand Kumar, who was in the news for his massive properties in Noida.

Clarifying that she will handle UP and Uttarakhand herself, she assigned Akash responsibility for the other states, making it clear that she will continue to play an active role, managing affairs in the party’s stronghold, Uttar Pradesh.

Is it just a coincidence that Mayawati declared her successor in exactly the same way (and at a similar moment) that BSP chief Kanshi Ram had declared Mayawati his successor, exactly 22 years ago?

On 15 December 2001, at a public meeting in Lucknow, Kanshi Ram had cited his inability to devote time to UP and said: “I am happy that Kumari Mayawati did not let my absence be felt.” Those days, the party was in crisis and assembly elections in UP were around the corner. The parallels are striking.

Interestingly, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has also announced that her nephew Abhishek Banerjee will succeed her in 2036, making Mayawati the second woman in Indian politics to have appointed a nephew as political heir. Rumour has it that December may bring some more surprising decisions from Mayawati.

When Kanshi Ram passed on the baton to her, Mayawati had declared that when the time came, her successor would be from the Jatav community but not from the family. Bhim Army party chief Chandrashekhar Ravan has reminded her of this statement. Having accused the Congress and the Samajwadi Party of ‘familism’, she herself will now face the same.


PM Narendra Modi (centre) at the Kashi Tamil Sangamam inauguration in November 2022
PM Narendra Modi (centre) at the Kashi Tamil Sangamam inauguration in November 2022

In a restrained statement, Akhilesh Yadav expressed hope that “the new leadership will maintain distance from the BJP” and that “Akash will play his innings openly”.

Political analyst Utkarsh Sinha describes Akash’s role as that of a ‘political intern’. “He is a Jatav, and a family member whom Mayawati trusts. With several loyalists having been cold-shouldered, Akash is now Mayawati’s favourite. He is young and educated, and with him Mayawati’s search for a trustworthy person may come to an end. But it would be a mistake to assume that Mayawati is thinking of ‘retirement’.”

Sinha also says that with every party and ‘party leader’ spotting talent within the family, ‘familism’ has become a non-issue in Indian politics.

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Desperate times call for desperate measures

Not only the denizens of Kashi but others as well are asking whether ‘Kashi Tamil Sangamam’ was the result of the BJP’s failure to secure a foothold in the South. After first being swept out of power in Karnataka and now being brushed aside in Telangana, the way the head honchos of the party publicised and organised this programme begged many questions.

A professor at BHU (Banaras Hindu University) observed that efforts to gain popularity among Tamils by forging links with the North would hardly bear results to compensate for the blow received in the South.

It was not without reason that on 17 December (a year after the programme was inaugurated), Narendra Modi not only flagged off the Kashi–Kanyakumari weekly train (Kashi–Tamil Sangam Express) at Namo Ghat, he also eulogised the glory of journeying to Kashi from Tamil Nadu.

He emphasised it as a journey from ‘Madurai Meenakshi’ to ‘Kashi Vishalakshi’, attempting thereby to establish a link between the two homes of Mahadev.

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Leading lights or unwanted guests?

Like the ‘hanumans’ who have had to relinquish their ‘heritage’ by being restrained from coming to Ram’s Ayodhya, so have Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, foremost leaders of the temple agitation, who chanted ‘Ramlala hum aayenge, mandir wahin banayenge’ (Ramlala, we will come, and build the temple there).

In Ayodhya, this topic is hotter than the Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha ceremony scheduled for 22 January. It is a different matter that after the president of the temple trust announced this and an uproar ensued, invitations were hurriedly sent to these elders.

A BJP leader, who sometimes takes a dig at his party’s internal affairs, said, “Even if elders are infirm, people try to honour their wish. Here they have been restrained from attending the event which is the culmination of their dream. No issues, Ramji is watching everything!”

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