Mayawati losing the plot: Time running out
The ‘Dalit Ki Beti’ as she calls herself, has often been mocked as ‘Daulat Ki Beti’ but now she appears to be politically isolated
Two U-turns in three days left even the most ardent supporters of Ms Mayawati baffled. There was no urgency or necessity for her to hold a press conference and say that BSP would do everything to ensure the defeat of Samajwadi Party candidates in the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha. If necessary, BSP would vote for the BJP, she asserted.
The stakes for the Rajya Sabha seats was not very high for the SP or the BSP, which could hope to win just one seat in the best-case scenario. Why would Behen Ji make such a loaded statement and give her game away, even if she had reached an understanding with the BJP? There was really no need for her to give the statement.
But within 48 hours she appeared to have realised the faux pas made by her; and she came up with another statement, saying this time that she would never join hands with the BJP under any circumstances. If the statement was made as a damage control measure, it predictably failed. On the contrary it cemented the impression that the BSP chief is confused and lacks clarity and foresight. There was a time when Ms Mayawati used to tie ‘Rakhi’ on the wrist of senior BJP leader Murali Manojar Joshi. She thrice formed a government in Uttar Pradesh with the help of BJP. For her BJP was never ‘untouchable’ in UP. But since 2014 she had been vocal in her criticism of both BJP and the RSS. So much so that in 2019 she dropped her animosity for the Samajwadi Party and embraced Akhilesh Yadav in a bid to stop Modi and BJP’s juggernaut.
She never forgave the Samajwadi Party for the attack on her at the State Guest House on Mirabai Road in Lucknow in 1994. She was reportedly humiliated and roughed up by SP workers then and she had ruled out any truck with it on several occasions in the past. Therefore, her decision to swallow the insult and her pride and join hands with SP was a major political departure for her. She clearly saw BJP and Modi as a bigger threat in 2019. Therefore, when she suddenly spoke of supporting the BJP, the question people asked was whether it was an off-the-cuff political statement of pique or whether there was more than met the eyes.
Mayawati, a school teacher, had led the movement to restore power under her mentor Kanshi Ram. Her achievement was nothing short of a miracle. It was no mean achievement to enable suppressed Dalits to stand up to dominating upper castes in the feudal state. She played an important role in continuing the movement for social justice that Baba Saheb Ambedkar had steered. But while Baba Saheb electrified the Dalits, ensured Reservation for them and energised the Dalit movement, he could not secure for them political power. He himself lost elections and the Republican Party remained a marginal force. It was Kanshi Ram who understood the requirements of electoral politics and moulded the Dalits in UP as a strong, political force. By the nineties, one could not even imagine of politics in the state without the Bahujan Samaj Party.
It is worth noting that Mayawati has been the chief minister of the largest state five times. On one occasion BSP secured an absolute majority by itself; on three other occasions she formed governments with support from or in alliance with the BJP. She also headed a government in which both BSP and SP were partners. Indeed, in 2007 she even succeeded in broadening the party’s appeal to the upper castes and secured a majority for herself. It was a breathtaking political experiment and an audacious act when upper castes extended their support to the party of Dalits.
Much of the credit for BSP’s success in UP goes to Kanshi Ram. But though Mayawati was his chosen successor, she lacked his vision and failed to take the movement forward. For Kanshi Ram, BSP and a share in political power were the means to empower the Dalits and strengthen the movement for equality. But for Mayawati, winning elections and forming the government became an end in itself. The inevitable result was a serious erosion in her support base among Dalits, who voted for the BJP in large numbers in the last Assembly election in the state. That explains why BJP bagged over 300 seats in the state assembly. Dalits found themselves reduced to just being voters and Mayawati as just one more leader.
When a Dalit woman was gangraped in Hathras and the Government of Yogi Adityanath persistently refused to acknowledge it as such, there was not a word from Mayawati. When the woman succumbed to her injuries after a fortnight, a host of political leaders called on the family to express their support and solidarity, among them Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi of the Congress and Jayant Chaudhary of the RLD. The UP government turned the victim’s village into a police garrison and tried to stop the leaders outside the village. But Mayawati was conspicuous by her absence and silence.
If Mayawati cannot stand by Dalits when they are in need of support, why would they stand by her? Chandrashekhar of the Bheem Army is doing what Mayawati should have been doing. And that is why his popularity among Dalits in UP is rising while hers is on the decline.
These are challenging times for Mayawati. She hasn’t won an election since 2012. She lost elections in 2014, 2017 and 2019 rather badly. Her support base has shrunk and today she is seen less as a Dalit leader and more as a leader of only the Jatavs. She cannot be oblivious of BJP’s attempts to draw the rest of the Dalits to itself and her diminishing relevance. But she increasingly appears to be clueless. The uncharacteristic flip-flops when she first gets into an alliance with SP and then breaks it as quickly before planning to lean on the shoulders of the BJP show a drift which is troubling.
This is not the Mayawati I have known. She looks helpless but she is a prisoner of choice. She needs to get out of her fortress-like house and hit the streets again. She must aggressively take up the cause of Dalits and get arrested, beaten or sent to prison. If she doesn’t, time is running out for her. She will soon be History.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political commentator. Views are his own.)