Mayawati’s New Gamble Is An Old Trick

(Photo by PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati’s breakup with the Samajwadi Party after a brief political honeymoon for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is not surprising; neither is her tirade against the SP and her move to appoint close relatives as office bearers of the BSP.

While announcing a split with the SP, Mayawati had said that Akhilesh Yadav was anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit. She went on to say that Akhilesh did not want to give poll tickets to Muslims.

By labelling the SP as anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit, Mayawati is only desperately trying to protect her voter base and possibly expand it. Dalits and Muslims have been her supporters for long and there has been an erosion over the years. While the Dalits may not ditch her, Muslims have been gravitating towards the SP as the community has come to realise that Maya may have lost the firepower.

The next three years would be crucial for Mayawati. Her strength will be tested in the upcoming by-election to 12 assembly seats, of which 11 have been necessitated as sitting MLAs got elected to the Lok Sabha in the recent general elections. Then there is the crucial Assembly elections in 2022.

Mayawati has now been out of power for seven years in UP. That’s too long to make a comeback. In 2007, the party commanded heft by bagging three-fourths of the assembly seats. So, she is desperate to be not just politically relevant but also try to grab power.

Samajwadi Party’s story is no different. Seven years ago, it lorded over 224 of the Assembly seats which fell to an abysmal 47 seats in the 2017 Assembly elections.

With Mayawati splitting from SP, the upcoming bypolls will witness a four-cornered contest between the BJP, BSP, SP and the Congress. In such a scenario, it is the BJP that may gain an upper hand.

Mayawati’s decision to go it alone came after the shocker in the recent general elections. The BSP won only 10 of 38 seats it contested, while the SP won 5 out of 37 seats. She was under the belief that a BSP-SP combination could knock out the BJP, their common enemy. Akhilesh sold the idea quite aggressively and emotionally.

After all, the arithmetic was solid. Mayawati had won 22.23 per cent of the votes in 2017 and the SP 28.32 per cent. Put together, it is nearly over half of the votes polled in the state, as compared to the BJP’s 41.57 per cent vote share. Even in the height of Modi wave in 2014, the combined vote share of the SP (22.35%) and BSP (19.77%) was only fractionally behind the BJP’s 42.63%.

Hence, on paper, coming together made sense for BSP and SP. But in politics, 2 plus 2 need not be 4. If the combination had worked, the BJP would have lost 50 seats in UP alone in the recent elections. But BJP ran away with 62 seats alone and its ally Apna Dal (Soneylal) won two of the 80 seats in the state.

What went horribly wrong was that the Yadav and upper caste votes did not automatically go to the BSP and, likewise, the Dalit votes did not go to the SP’s kitty. The Dalits and part of the Muslim community seem to have voted for the BSP, while the Yadavs and upper castes favoured the BJP. It is this reality check that made Mayawati to quickly end the ties with the SP and sup alone while at least protecting her fast-eroding vote bank.

The second important step she took in her battles ahead was to appoint her close relatives as office-bearers. Realising that the BJP can poach even one’s shadow, Mayawati is keen that her poll strategies, funding and plans remain in the family, not to even trusted loyalists who could one day ditch her.

With this move, the BSP supremo has gone back on her 2018 promise that no member of her family would be given an official post in the party. Recently, she brought back her younger brother Anand as the party’s vice-president and appointed nephew Akash Anand as the national coordinator.

When she made the dramatic announcement in 2018, she summarily dismissed Anand as BSP vice-president, just months after his appointment in October 2017. Anand has been facing several allegations of corruption. Mayawati’s logic seems to be that a corrupt relative is better than a disloyal outsider.

The move is being seen as a bid to rebuild a battered party. However, in the process, Mayawati has lost the USP she enjoyed in not allowing her kin to any top position in the party.

Will the new gamble win the political game for Maya? Well, her strength will soon be tested in the 12 by-elections in UP. But one thing is for sure: we will see a more aggressive Mayawati in the coming days.