The Lok Sabha election results have not ceased having an effect on India’s political landscape—like a temblor with many aftershocks. Opposition parties still seem to be in post-traumatic shock everywhere. But there’s an unusual churn in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, and one party is not wasting any time in trauma ward. Unlike her counterparts—most of whom are still groping in the dark after the electoral drubbing—BSP supremo Mayawati has been making some quick moves to cut her losses and revive her career. An astute leader, she knows things are getting desperate for her party, and the 2022 assembly polls will be crucial for her. She has embarked on a revival plan for BSP, starting off by summarily snapping ties with the Samajwadi Party and then, in the middle of a burst of controlled acrimony, inducting her brother and nephew into the party’s power hierarchy.
Her decision to call off the much-ballyhooed mahagathbandhan with the SP, which came barely two weeks after the results, did not come as a surprise to many. She is known for her flip-flops: some observers feel it was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, while others feel it was always part of Mayawati’s plan to branch out solo after surviving the Lok Sabha elections in alliance. Contrary to expectations, the alliance had failed to make any significant impact. The logic of caste aggregation was turned on its head, and the BSP could win only 10 of the 38 seats it contested, while SP won five out of 37.
Projecting itself as a refuge for Muslims to undercut the SP, Mayawati made Danish Ali the BSP’s leader in the Lok Sabha
So what’s the logic behind parting ways with the SP? Political observers feel there’s an inherent and natural rivalry to their relationship—among other things, both parties vie for the same space in terms of projecting themselves as a refuge for the Muslim community. The appointment of Danish Ali as the BSP’s leader in the Lok Sabha can be seen in that light. Ali himself says going solo was aimed at “boosting the cadre” ahead of the bypolls to 11 assembly seats that have fallen vacant after the Parliament elections. But he implicitly confirms the logic. “It’s true that Yadavs didn’t vote for the alliance. The BSP won 10 seats because Jatavs and Muslims voted for us. Even SP won its five seats because of the same reasons,” says Ali, the MP from Amroha. Those five seats included Muslim-dominated constituencies like Rampur and Moradabad. But with Yadav loyalty thinning for the SP, it makes sense for the BSP to set itself up as the natural party of choice for a broader Dalit-Muslim-OBC bloc.
But fighting along also means reverting to a three-cornered fight—four-cornered, if you include the Congress. And the SP and BSP will be back to wearing each other down, as in the past. That’s why some observers believe her tactics are wrong. After all, they could have repeated 2018 — when they won Lok Sabha bypolls in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana together. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction. The alliance could have done well in state elections, unlike in the national elections. Calling off an alliance when important byelections are around the corner make no sense,” political analyst Neerja Chowdhury says.
Analysts point out that the BSP did gain from the alliance more than the SP. The latter’s voteshare dipped to 18 per cent from the 22.3 per cent it had garnered in 2014, while the BSP held on to its 19+ per cent. (Remember, the same voteshare had yielded zero seats to the BSP last time.) But Mayawati holds the SP responsible for the decimation of the alliance. At a review meeting, she blamed SP’s attitude and cited the erosion in its core vote-bloc—the Yadav community.
But it’s a risky gambit and has not gone down well with people like the young Dalit radical Chandrashekar Azad, who sees it as a setback to ‘Dalit politics’. But others say Mayawati may have gone on the offensive fearing a backlash from her supporters, some of whom may have been ambivalent about the Dalit-Yadav chemistry. She could be worried more about eroding Jatav votes and from those across the non-Yadav OBC spectrum. “She may be shifting the blame on the SP fearing her supporters. Another reason could be she wants to send a message to BJP by staying away from SP. She is a clear beneficiary of the alliance, otherwise she wouldn’t have won in Yadav-dominated eastern UP. In fact, people believe younger Jatavs didn’t vote for her, but voted the BJP,” says Chowdhury.
Dalit activist Satish Prakash believes the alliance was bound to not last as it was a mere tactical arrangement anyway. “It was no surprise that the alliance collapsed after the elections. That’s how politics works. There are no permanent ties,” says Prakash, an associate professor at Meerut College. Prakash says that both parties will use the byelections to test their cadre strength. “Strategies for the 2022 assembly elections will be charted out depending on the outcome,” he says.
The SP is maintaining a tactful silence in response to Mayawati’s unilateral aggression. Party spokesperson Anurag Bhadauria declined comments on the many allegations raised by Mayawati—including how Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav had sabotaged her candidates. “We are not bothered about her allegations. Bygones are bygones for us. The party is only answerable to people and they know the truth,” says Bhadauria. Will the SP join hands with the BSP in the future? “Only the future will tell,” he says, wryly. A BSP leader, on condition of anonymity, questions the SP’s priorities and degree of commitment, though, pointing out how Akhilesh is vacationing abroad when Parliament is in session.
The Yadav family, infamously, has its own internal issues. But Mayawati has now set off an unexpected dynastic turn by inducting her younger brother, Anand Kumar, as the BSP’s national vice president and nephew Akash Anand as its national coordinator. The move has invited flak from many, including party workers, especially because she has moved contrary to a clause in her party’s constitution that no relative of the national president could hold party positions. Says former state minister and senior BSP leader Ramveer Upadhyay, now under suspension: “All political parties are dynastic. Now Behenji has proved she’s no different. Her true colours have come out.” Upadhyay was suspended from the BSP just before the election results on charges of anti-party activities. Upadhyay, who played a key role in mobilising elite-caste votes for the BSP, feels the party is moving away from its core base and values.
He says that though Mayawati got an overwhelming mandate in 2007, she failed to meet the expectations of Dalits and backwards. “Those communities had great expectations from her. But they were disappointed…Behenji went away from them,” says Upadhyay. “She has to bring all the bahujan—including Valmikis, Kushwahas and Kurmis—to the party fold. She needs to bring Brahmins into the fold. When Brahmins supported her in 2007, she formed the government. Today, they are with the BJP, so the BJP won.”
But a steady movement towards the BJP is common across communities. “I would say it’s a deepening of Mandal politics. It gives power to the Most Backward Communities (MBCs) and they chose Modi this time. They are not ready to play second fiddle to the Yadavs or Kurmis or anyone anymore,” says Chowdhury. So if Mayawati has to make a genuine play for political space, she will have to recover the language of empowerment in real and non-token ways.