We might not be hearing much of Mayawati these days. But the crafty politician that she is, her hibernation could be by choice. She might just be waiting for the right opportunity to come out.
Where is Mayawati, President of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)? She seems to have vacated her most significant political turf, Uttar Pradesh (UP), the state that gave her political prominence, clout and power. Has she gone into some kind of political hibernation these days?
I was invited to explain Mayawati’s rise to power to an excited audience at Harvard in 2008. Many in the audience thought that empowering subaltern women was a fascinating story. There was optimism for the future of social justice in India. During her five years tenure (2007-2012), the general assessment is that she was not wide off the mark in governance, especially on law-and-order front, though there were internal contradictions in her sandwich coalition of Brahmins and Dalits.
But, Mayawati could not put-up with her defeat in 2012 assembly elections in UP. Though she lost only 4.5 percent votes, but the seat loss was a massive 126 seats. She shifted her base from the state capital Lucknow to national capital Delhi that distanced her from her core voters in UP.
Not only that, she also steadily got disconnected with her Dalit voters. While she fielded Satish Mishra and Naseemuddin Siddiqui to handle her constituency, they did not click with Dalit voters who only knew the behenji, as she is popularly called. Unfortunately, Mayawati had not created the second rung of Dalit leadership. The BSP is a single leader party; no one has mandate to speak for the party. So, either behenji or none!
But, that distancing and disconnection with Dalits had a backroom story. Mayawati nursed a national ambition at the backdrop of 2014 parliamentary elections. Many in the non-Congress, non-BJP parties thought of Mayawati as the best bet for giving a push to the ‘third front’ with her Dalit support, but Mulayam Singh Yadav was a big hurdle. He himself had prime ministerial ambitions that he made public so blatantly before and during 2014 elections.
To enable her take a national trajectory Mayawati floated plans, in November 2011, to trifurcate UP into three new states, Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Harit Pradesh which would have meant a very small leftover central part as UP. The rationale given for this division was to improve governance and administration. But the real intent was to leave the entire state into four small truncated federal entities where Mayawati could field her four lieutenants mainly Swami Prasad Maurya, Satish Mishra and Naseemuddin etc as in-charges. Also that way none could ever become big enough to challenge her.
All that backfired and there was no popular support at the ground for her plan. Mulayam grabbed that opportunity to vehemently oppose her plan and won the next elections in 2012.
With SP government in UP in 2012, Mayawati did not feel safe living in Lucknow. She had bad memories of the infamous guest house incident of 1995 when goons of Samajwadi Party allegedly tried to kill her. But, she became more panicky than expected and shifted her political focus to other states.
In doing so, she made two major tactical mistakes. Her political empowerment had been UP centric, and she had created history of sorts by masterly operationalising social engineering, first through ‘social osmosis’ in which she consolidated her Dalit base through exclusionary politics, and then, through ‘reverse social osmosis’ in which she developed sandwich coalition with Brahmins through her inclusive politics.
Her first tactical mistake was to not consolidate social engineering experiments in UP through the mechanisms of what came to be known as Brahmin jodo sammelans and bhaichara banao samitis. If these would have been made a regular drive, the Brahmin-Dalit rapport would have become institutionalised leading to very different story.
Mayawati’s second tactical mistake was not to attend to the growing conflict and tension in her Brahmin-Dalit sandwich coalition. Brahmins became more demanding while Dalits started feeling deprived as political space for them shrank substantially to accommodate other castes especially Brahmins. Dalits felt a double loss – loss of identity and loss of political space. Handling this problem was not that difficult, but her attention away from UP and towards many new areas diluted its urgency.
In addition, Mayawati did not forget to teach Mulayam a lesson for thwarting her national ambitions. Therefore, in 2014 Lok Sabha election, she kept a low profile and adopted a strategy to finish Mulayam Singh Yadav.
She is reported to have transferred her Dalit votes to BJP in constituencies where BJP was in direct fight with SP.
That was empirically proved because BSP lost 16 percent Jatav and 35 percent non-Jatav Dalit votes as compared to 2009, and BJP gained 14 percent Jatav and 37 percent non-Jatav Dalit votes. That amply shows as if en bloc transfer of Dalit votes was done from BSP to BJP in UP. This she did at a very heavy price; she lost 7.8 per cent votes as compared to 2009 and did not win even a single seat in 2014. But her goal, to finish Mulayam, was met; SP was limited to just five Lok Sabha seats – all in the Saifai family.
But, Mayawati is a crafty politician. She is in hibernation by choice. Perhaps, she knows when to come out of that and how. It appears that she has been waiting for the right opportunity. Soon, we may see her come back.
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