In 2007, in one of his articles, the prominent sociologist Dipankar Gupta compared Mayawati with Mao Zedong, the founding father of people’s Republic of China, for being a great strategist. As we enter into one of the most crucial elections that will shape the future politics of this country, we must realize that this election is also very important for the future of Bahujan politics, particularly for Mayawati after three consecutive defeats in 2012, 2014 and 2017. Can Mayawati, because of her strategy and tactics which Gupta talks about, emerge as the one of the leading players in the battle of the 2019 General Elections?
The mainstream media has pitched the electoral discourse as a two-way contest between BJP’s Narendra Modi and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi. However the large support base of Bahujan Samaj Party, the third largest party in terms of vote share in India, is optimistic and determined to see Mayawati as the Prime Minister of this country. Is it because of any strong electoral arithmetic or merely an emotional sentiment that sees Mayawati as a potential prime minister in 2019? Would the image of Mayawati as a great strategist again turn in her favour? Will Mayawati conquering all odds, prove herself as the ‘miracle of democracy’ one more time? In this piece, I will try to find out the answer to the above questions.
In 2019 elections, one thing that stands between the BJP’s defeat and the victory is the Mahagathbandhan in UP. Before the bye-polls of Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Kairana, it was general opinion that there is no threat to BJP or Narendra Modi in 2019 and that they will comfortably win the upcoming Parliamentary elections. But now the situation is different for BJP. In 2014, riding on a wave of popularity, BJP achieved an absolute majority with 282 seats out of a total of 543. Several ground reports suggest that the popularity of Modi has come down in the last five years, and issues like unemployment, poverty, inflation, farm distress, atrocities against SC/ST and OBC are going against the present government. Besides these, major decisions like demonetization and GST have not only failed but exacerbated the problems, especially of those in the informal sector. In Uttar Pradesh, ground reports of the voting in the first three phases have suggest a huge gain of seats for the formidable BSP-SP-RLD alliance. If this trend continues, the BJP is going to lose more than 50 seats in Uttar Pradesh.
One section believes that the country is going to get a fractured mandate on 23rd May and NDA is touted to get a maximum tally of 220. Then there is a high probability that a leader from a third party would be the prime minister. The prospect of Mayawati’s name in the PM race was highlighted by prominent political scientist Sudha Pai, just after the grand show of opposition unity in the swearing-in ceremony of the JDS-Congress formation in Karnataka. But the situation has changed significantly after that event. The Congress is not a part of the alliance in the electorally crucial states like Uttar Pradesh. But, Mayawati still has the capability to emerge as a big player in the 2019 elections, especially in a situation where a third front has strong chances to form the government after the election results are declared.
Meanwhile, the chemistry between Mayawati and Akhilesh is going good in Uttar Pradesh. The trust deficit between the two parties has been bridged by both the leaders to a substantial level. It is visible in every common rally of their alliance. The historic rally of Mainpuri is the outcome of this chemistry where Mayawati shared stage with Mulayam Singh Yadav after 24 years. This rally has answered several questions and also hinted that this alliance has moved much ahead of past experiences.
From the first day of alliance formation, the media is constantly asking Akhilesh Yadav who will be the prime ministerial candidate of the alliance if they get a chance to form the government. He has tactically answered that the next prime minister will be from Uttar Pradesh. In every election rally, he constantly told his supporters that this alliance will give the new prime minister for the country. It is important to understand this tactical understanding between Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav–both understand very well that proposing Mayawati’s name as prime minister before the election results will negatively affect the chances of the Gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh. The reality is that if it is the case to decide between Mayawati and Modi, a large support base of RLD and SP may shift towards Modi. Even the social engineering of getting the votes from the ‘upper castes’ may not have worked for the Gathbandhan in such a scenario. So, both parties maintained a cautionary distance from naming Mayawati as the prime minister and instead chose to emphasize their collective energy to maximize their tally in Uttar Pradesh.
BSP supremo Mayawati is experimenting with alliance politics after a long gap. She is in alliance with the non-BJP and non-Congress parties in most of the states. The alliance partner of BSP in Andhra Pradesh is Janasena party, headed by the Pawan Kalyan, who openly declared that he wishes to see Mayawati as the prime minister of this country. Ajit Jogi in Chhatisgarh and Abhay Chautala in Haryana (though BSP broke alliance with INLD later) also pitched Mayawati’s name as the prime ministerial candidate for 2019. In Punjab too, BSP made alliance with the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA). PDA pledged that they will support Mayawati’s name as the prime ministerial candidate.
Mayawati is known for her strategic prowess from the very beginning of her political journey. Ajay Bose in his biography of Mayawati reflected on her strategic skills during the 1999 elections. He mentioned that there were reported differences between Mayawati and Kanshiram over the pre-poll strategy before the General Election of 1999. Kanshiram felt that with the NDA looking stronger than before, it was necessary to ally with its opponents wherever it was possible, including Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati acquiesced to Kanshiram’s strategies in other states but was adamant about going it alone in her home turf of Uttar Pradesh. The result vindicated Mayawati’s position where BSP not only enhanced its vote share but also increased its seats from four to fourteen. On the other hand BSP performed poorly in other states where it was in alliance. The second time when Mayawati proved her political foresight was in 2007 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where her social engineering led BSP to come to power with full majority for the first time.
Some of the political pundits and experts criticized Mayawati’s decision of not taking the Congress into the alliance in Uttar Pradesh. It is actually the failure of the Congress to not enter into a national level alliance against BJP. Some internal reports say that after the Karnataka election results and H. D. Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony, Mayawati was in favour of alliance with the Congress but was of the opinion that it should not be limited to Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati wanted a seat sharing arrangement in Maharashtra, MP, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and other states where BSP has a significant presence. Statistical data shows that if an alliance was made, it would only lead to an improvement of Congress’ prospects in these states, but unfortunately it could not take place. The progressive-liberal lobbies,who were critical of Mayawati for not taking the Congress in alliance in Uttar Pradesh are silent over the Congress’ failure to make alliance in Delhi, West Bengal and Haryana with parties like AAP, TMC and CPM. Anand Teltumbde in his recent article rightly pointed out that why are the Dalit leaders who try to stand independent of the ruling class parties singled out as black sheep, benefiting either the BJP or Congress.
The present situation in Uttar Pradesh is very promising for BSP, SP and RLD Gathbandhan. In politics, one plus one does not always equal two. Not taking Congress into the alliance may rather work in the favour of the Gathbandhan–an alliance of the larger Bahujan community. Besides, the whole election debate may have ended up in a BJP versus Congress narrative or Modi versus Rahul Gandhi in which the larger beneficiary would have been the BJP. In the election campaign of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is still struggling to counter the formidable narrative of the BSP-SP-RLD alliance on the ground. In her speeches, Mayawati constantly raised the point that it is a fight between ‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Namo Namo’. She even said that supporters of ‘Jai Bhim’ will uproot the ‘Namo’ government in this election.
It is generally said that ‘Delhi ka raasta, Lucknow se hokar gujarta hai’ (the road to Delhi passes through Lucknow). In the last elections of 2014, BJP’s whopping victory i.e. seventy three seats, played a very significant role in the formation of BJP government. If the result this time is in favour of the Gathbandhan and if they are able to secure around 60 seats, then India may well be on its way to get its first Dalit prime minister in Mayawati. The tagline of the Gathbandhan ‘Mahagathbandhan se Mahaparivartan’ – will live up to its promise, if Mayawati, a symbol of dignity to large marginalized masses, becomes the Prime Minister of this country.
Amit Kumar is a research scholar at Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), JNU, and president of BAPSA, JNU.