As a bruised and tired country limped towards the last leg of polling this week, Mayawati fired a fresh salvo at the Prime Minister. Married women within the BJP dreaded to see their husbands get close to Narendra Modi, lest they too get inspired to abandon their wives like the PM, she said. It was uncharacteristic because the BSP chief is known to be careful, cautious and usually politically correct.
And even as observers wondered what could have provoked her, came the acerbic response from Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Mayawati, he declared, had proved that she was not fit to hold public office. Mayawati has never shied away from voicing her ambition to become the Prime Minister. She believes it is time for a Dalit to be the PM and during the campaign did hint from which constituency she would contest for the Lok Sabha if she gets to occupy the office.
Mayawati and BSP supporters are acutely aware that though BSP may end up winning around 30 seats in the Lok Sabha (BSP is contesting in 38 seats in Uttar Pradesh), the number way well be crucial to form the next government. And while Mamata Banerjee appears to have burnt her bridges with the BJP and cannot afford to align with the Right, Mayawati has not. Both the BJP and the Congress, her instinct rightly tells her, would be keen to back her, depending upon their numbers. She fits into their need to embrace the Dalits.
The BSP did not have a single MP in the outgoing Lok Sabha. But Mayawati is confident that even if the Gathbandhan (BSP-SP-RLD) wins 40 seats this time, it will be in the race. Akhilesh Yadav and the SP, her supporters believe, would happily back her claim to the PM’s office as long as the SP leader is assured of her support for the Chief Minister’s chair in Lucknow when the next Assembly election takes place in 2022.
Her remarkable political journey that began in 1984 has been marked by courage and a no-nonsense approach to administration. It has also been marked by political flexibility. She has been Chief Minister of the largest state four times, twice with the help of BJP and would tie ‘Rakhi’ on the wrists of BJP leaders Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra. That was the time when she was fiercely opposed to Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party. Any suggestion that she might join hands with SP was dismissed off hand as an impossibility.
So much so that even as late as on January 10, 2019, BJP president Amit Shah and other BJP leaders had confidently declared that a SP-BSP alliance in the state was a pipe dream. They were rudely shaken when the alliance between SP, BSP and RLD was announced the next day. Still sceptical, BJP leaders confided that the alliance would not work on the ground, that the frosty relationship between Maya and Mulayam would come in the way. They were not even on talking terms, they pointed out.
But they were in for both some shock and surprise. Not only did Mayawati start sharing platforms with Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav, she began praising both of them. The barbs she had publicly showered on the father-and-son were replaced by handsome praise for a ‘sanskari’ (cultured) son of a ‘sanskari’ father. At Azamgarh she exhorted her supporters and said that a vote for Akhilesh Yadav was a vote for her.
It was on June 2, 1995 when she had accused Mulayam Singh Yadav for setting his party leaders after her. They had allegedly physically assaulted her at Lucknow’s state guesthouse, when she decided to withdraw support from the Mulayam Singh government. Some SP members had indeed tried to bully her and break the BSP by abducting some of her MLAs that day but Mayawati turned the table and replaced Mulayam Singh as Chief Minister the very next day with outside support of the BJP and the Janata Dal.
To be fair to her, she has mellowed down and changed in many ways. There was a time when the stage from where she addressed gatherings had only a single chair for her while others sat cross legged at her feet. Even as Chief Minister, she would often be inaccessible to the people. In her last stint as CM, she even got people who tried to meet her arrested by the police. Her imperious ways were not confined to erecting statues of herself, complete with her trademark hand bag and necklace. The stretch between her official residence and her office would be routinely washed.
The ‘Dalit diva’, as a section of the media describes her, has, however, gone through a transformation. She no longer minds sharing the stage with other leaders. She has become more accessible. She has started giving limited access to the national media as she prepares for the highest public office in the country.
“She cannot wait for five more years. She would be 68 in 2024 and may not be as physically fit as she is now,” a confidante in Lucknow explains.