Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati is talking. And how! Known for her reticence and long silences, the former Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh addressed a press conference in Lucknow almost to rap the ruling party on the wrist.

Last Thursday Mayawati had publicly expressed concern over the recent suspension of Members of Parliament (MPs) in both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. She described the incident as “unfortunate and regrettable” in parliamentary history. Mayawati added that the action had undermined the credibility of the government, and the opposition alike.

Mayawati is known to have suspended countless BSP workers from the party in the past. However, the suspension of about 150 opposition MPs in both Houses during the current session of Parliament is seen as neither good work nor a good record for the government or the Opposition. Mayawati had expressed fear that the unfortunate development could erode the public’s trust in the democratic process.

The suspension of 143 MPs, 97 from the Lok Sabha and 46 from the Rajya Sabha occurred due to the din caused by the opposition that had demanded a statement from Union Minister Amit Shah regarding the recent Parliament security breach.

Reacting to the same incident, Mayawati said that the need of the hour is to preserve democratic, parliamentary traditions and she would like to see cooperation between the government and the opposition.

She has asked that the Opposition be involved in the passage of significant bills that affect the life of common citizens and said that all political parties are responsible for keeping parliamentary traditions alive in the country.

The suspension of opposition party parliamentarians is not the answer but strict legal action against those responsible for the frightful act. A breach of security in the parliament House had stunned the nation when intruders had managed to enter the Lok Sabha chamber to release yellow gas on December 14. Four individuals, facing charges under anti-terror laws, have been taken into custody.

What Mayawati is publicly saying today about the government does not make her sound like she is the ‘B team’ of the ruling party. She also said that her party respects all religions practiced in India, and does not believe in bad mouthing other political parties.

Addressing the media in Hindi, Mayawati said that in politics it is unknown when, who will need the support of whom. This talk of Mayawati has fuelled speculations that the BSP may join the grand alliance of opposition parties to contest the general elections early next year in a joint effort to defeat the ruling party.

Mayawati’s talk today is a change from what she said only a few months ago. Last August, Mayawati had shown no interest in being part of any alliance to contest the 2024 general elections. She had said that her party would neither partner with the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A) nor the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mayawati had insisted that she would not ally with either the Congress or the ruling party as both parties were “anti-poor, casteist, communal and pro-rich”. Till just a few days ago Mayawati had said that the BSP would contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections alone. She defined her dream to see millions of neglected people united in support of mutual brotherhood.

First Dalit Woman CM

Dalit leader Mayawati became the CM of Uttar Pradesh (UP) for the fourth time in 2007. However, since then, her support base has eroded. In the 2022 assembly elections, she won only one seat.

The electoral victory in 2007 had offered Mayawati an unprecedented historical opportunity to demonstrate how her governance would be different. The BSP’s rise as a party of the majority of 85 percent people against the traditional ruling elite was inspiring. It had rallied common citizens, including Dalits in large numbers behind the BSP.

Mayawati is the first Dalit woman to sit in the CM’s chair in UP. However, her first term in 1995 was brief. The second term in 1997 was also less than six months. The third term of 16 months was a little longer and together all her years in power had helped to consolidate the Dalit vote bank behind the BSP.

During these years, Mayawati built public institutions and erected statues of Dalit icons like BR Ambedkar. The visual sights of Dalit presence in so many public places remains a matter of great pride for members of the Scheduled Castes (SC).

Mayawati’s Ambedkar Village Scheme (AVS) had contributed to the socio-economic development of some Dalit villages. Some roads and houses were built, and some hand pumps installed. For a while, a part of the 20 percent of the Dalit population of UP was happy and the increasingly autocratic rule of Mayawati was ignored by most.

Today Mayawati is seen to nurse a soft corner in her heart for Akash Anand, her nephew who was declared her political heir recently. According to the grapevine this is because Anand was born in 1995, the auspicious year when Mayawati was elected CM of UP for the first time.

Loud and Clear

What is the loudest whisper in Lucknow’s corridors of power today? It is about Mayawati’s softening stance towards the I.N.D.I.A bloc, and also her fear of losing her Dalit supporters.

Last Tuesday BSP parliamentarian Shyam Singh Yadav said that the only way to defeat the ruling party was for all the Opposition parties to jointly contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. “If you ask me, I will say very frankly, very clearly and very unambiguously say that my party should also join the I.N.D.I.A Alliance. This is my personal opinion.

“But the BSP supremo (Mayawati) will do what she thinks, we are bound by her decision... It is my personal opinion that the BSP should be a part of the INDIA Alliance... There is no doubt that if all the parties contest together, we will be able to give a good fight in UP,” Yadav told the media.

Mallikarjun Kharge in UP

The I.N.D.I.A bloc of 28 Opposition parties held its fourth meeting last Tuesday. The discussions included seat-sharing strategies and the declaration of a probable prime ministerial candidate. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee proposed the name of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge for the coveted post.

It is also proposed that Kharge, a Dalit should contest from a Lok Sabha constituency in UP. Maybe even from Varanasi? If similar proposals become a reality is Mayawati afraid of losing her Dalit supporters to Kharge, the Congressman? That is only one of the questions plaguing the mind of not just voters but also political parties in UP.