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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 8 MARCH, 2017

Mayawati Struggles in UP


NEW DELHI: The seven phase, one month long, elections in Uttar Pradesh finally draws to a close today. And despite the wise commentators sitting in Delhi who have given the elections to the BJP, on the ground the situation is certainly not clear cut. The candidates themselves are confused, with political leaders of all hues confiding that this time it is almost impossible to predict who will form the government even as political parties claim a majority in official briefings.

The only two points on which all spoken to, regardless of caste and community or political affiliation, have a consensus are:

1. The fight to form the government is now between the Samajwadi Party-Congress Alliance and the BJP and

2. Mayawati’s position is not as strong as was expected initially

Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj party were seen as favourites just before the elections began. And even through the first couple of phases where it became clear that the Dalit-Muslim consolidation Mayawati was hoping for had been dented by the emergence of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav as the leader of the Samajwadi party, with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav managing to push himself into the sidelines.

In the first phase in Meerut, for instance, Dalits in BJP legislator Sangeet Som’s Assembly constituency insisted that ‘Behenji’ would win. How? “Well we are all voting for her again this time and so are all the Muslims,” a wizened old supporter who had not voted for the BSP in 2014 said. A little distance away, closer to the city, Muslims were however, openly enthusiastic about Akhilesh Yadav, praising him for all the “work” he has done for the state. What work? A group looked at the Citizen reporter in surprise, “what work, who do you think has built this road right here?”

This was a first indication of a swing in mood, and the possibility of the Muslim moving away from the BSP to the Alliance. In successive phases this trend gathered intensity with the BSP getting the benefit of the consolidation it had been almost certain of at the start, only in constituencies where the Alliance candidate was from the Congress party and too weak or unpopular. In most other instances, the Muslims who had clearly been looking at the BSP when the SP family was slugging it out in Lucknow, opted for the Alliance, more specifically the Samajwadi party candidates.

This broke the strategy that Mayawati had put together, being the only party to field about a 100 Muslim candidates. The Muslim-Dalit combination was a winning formula. Though she did target the upper castes and other backwards, this was the mainstay of her poll strategy. But as the elections progressed this developed deep cracks, with the last two phases even suggesting a certain scattering of the Dalit vote. This could not be independently confirmed by The Citizen but the BJP workers in Lucknow and Varanasi did claim that they were hoping for the support of some of the non-Jatav Dalits. This has been stoutly denied by the BSP. In fact Mayawati’s Brahmin face Satish Mishra told this reporter in Varanasi that the BSP was in good fettle, and would be forming the government in UP.

From being ‘in the fight’ the BSP has slipped to the third position in popular political reckoning. The campaign against her by the Alliance, and more so by the CM whose references to his ‘bua’ at his rallies met with vocal glee from the crowds, that she would cross over to the BJP if required worked to quite some extent in keeping the minorities away. “As for bua, well she might celebrate raksha bandhan with Modiji” was the barb that did draw blood with this perception gathering ground amongst the minorities, as the elections progressed. More so, as the BSP unlike the SP and the Congress is the only party in the fray to have been in alliance with the BJP in UP.

Mayawati carried out a strong campaign, and even held a huge meeting in Rae Bareilly for her candidate who did strike a chord with the community. It is one of the seats where the strategy seemed to be working largely because of the disaffection with the Congress candidate and the fact that the BSP candidate was from a well regarded business family of the area, with the ability to give a good fight. She has put in considerable effort, has taken on her opponents with determination, and has been reaching out far more than she usually does.

The BSP leader also moved to induct eastern UP don Mukhtar Ansari and his clan into the BSP. Ansari is known to have influence in several Assembly constituencies and the strategy was clearly to ensure a solid Muslim-Dalit consolidation sweeping the BSP into power. However, there are reports that this has not worked as well as expected with even the weavers in neighbouring Varanasi moving towards the Alliance this time around. Also the decision to bring in Ansari has ensured that there is no shift of the upper caste votes that she was also hoping for. Ansari seems to have lost some of his lustre in these parts of UP, and is not seen as a weight heavy enough to swing the minority vote to the extent required.

Mayawati also spent the past year preparing for these polls. She had lost some of the Dalit vote in the 2014 polls to the BJP, and this time around she visited Gujarat after the Una incident where the Dalits were stripped and beaten by cow vigilantes; took a vocal position on the Rohith Vemula suicide in Hyderabad Central University and spoke out for Dalit justice and rights. This was to consolidate the Dalit vote behind her. Reports from UP at the onset suggested that she had succeeded, with the second part of her strategy being to bring in the Muslims behind her. She started taking a position against communalism, hit out at the cow vigilantes, and fielded a record number of minority candidates in follow up action. For instance hers is the first party to field a Muslim from Rae Bareilly.

This was yielding results until the Alliance was formed, and the minorities shifted in large numbers to it. To what extent this has damaged her prospects will be known, of course, only after the results but if any call can be made about the UP polls it is that Mayawati is trailing behind the Alliance if taken together and the BJP.

However, this does not mean in UP politics that she can not form the government. Permutations and combinations after the polls always keep such options open.

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