With Mayawati due to address her first rally, which way will Dalit votes swing in Western UP?
BSP is not a party of ‘leaders’, claim supporters in response to criticism that Mayawati has delayed her first rally for too long and it is too late to make a difference
Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati will be addressing a public meeting in Agra on the second day of February, her first in this election and after a long time. She had earlier declared that she would not contest herself; and while other opposition and BJP rulers were holding road shows and campaigning from door to door, she was conspicuous by her absence.
The BSP chief was criticised sharply for deciding against alliances and for her invisibility on the ground. People wondered if she was indifferent to the election. Others accused her of having surrendered to the BJP. “She is afraid of BJP because they will come all out with central agencies (ED & CBI) against her”, claimed Indrajeet Saroj, Samajwadi Party general secretary.
Party cadres of BSP were undoubtedly missing Mayawati from the political landscape. Home Minister Amit Shah while attending a rally in Moradabad said, “She has confined herself in her home because it is cold outside.” Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also expressed surprise over the long silence of BSP leader, “I am surprised that BSP is not yet active this time”, said the Congress general secretary while adding, “Maybe BJP is exerting some pressure on her”.
Even now that she has decided to emerge from her cocoon and jump into the fray, sceptics wonder if this is too little and too late, a token appearance for form’s sake. Because her first election rally will be held just the day before nomination closes for the fourth phase of polling in the state.
The four-time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is however known to be a lone warrior. Probably she is the only ‘superstar campaigner’ of the party since Kanshi Ram, the BSP founder, who passed away in October 2006. Mayawati has of course drawn huge crowds in the past and organised some of the largest rallies in the state in the past.
Mayawati hasn’t appeared in a public rally since October 10, 2021, when she addressed her supporters on the death anniversary of Kanshi Ram in Lucknow. In the first week of January 2022 she claimed, “my party is poor and we cannot organise events like the BJP and others”, adding that campaigning style of BSP is different. The reply didn’t satisfy too many people.
“We need the leader out there motivating our cadres”, conceded a BSP leader on condition of anonymity. Ram Chandra Jatav, a BSP supporter in Ghaziabad also says, “Bahanji should lead from the front although we will always support the party, no matter.” He also points out that BSP cadres and supporters aren’t influenced by the size of gatherings or publicity material. “We are committed to our cause,” he added.
Ram Chandra Jatav may well be correct. But BSP needs votes from other communities also if the party wants to be a serious contender for power in Uttar Pradesh. Till now, party general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra and Mayawati’s nephew Akash Anand have led BSP’s campaign. Mishra is the leading face but with no great appeal among Dalit voters. Even among Brahmins, he isn’t a big draw.
The party has also lost several organisers and leaders in recent years. “Mayawati isn’t attending rallies as there is no one to manage the events,” claims Indrajeet Saroj. Saroj himself besides others like Vir Singh, Swami Prasad Maurya, Lalji Verma, Ram Achal Rajbhar and Nasimuddin Siddiqui quit the party in recent years.
“BSP however is not a party of leaders but has committed cadres and Jatavs, a community that constitutes 57% of total Dalit voters in the state, seem to be firmly with her”, claimed Anjum, a journalist. “She has also seized the opportunity by offering ticket to many Muslim politicians in Western UP, denied nomination by the Samajwadi Party”, he adds.
More than the seats the BSP wins, observers wonder which party will be affected more by BSP and how. Both BJP and the Samajwadi Party, which were eyeing to corner bulk of the Dalit votes in her absence,could suffer now that Mayawati is back in the fray. BJP, which cornered Dalit votes during the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 assembly polls, stands to suffer a lot more if Dalit votes return to Mayawati.
BJP is however hopeful that efficient distribution of free rations during the last one year or so will help it retain Dalit support in the state.
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)