Out of touch with the people, unable to keep her party together, but too arrogant to admit it - this is the situation from which Mayawati is about to begin her campaign for the next Lok Sabha elections.
Politically decimated in the 2014 parliamentary and the 2017 state assembly elections, and without confidantes like Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Swami Prasad Maurya, Indrajit Saroj and many other senior leaders, Mayawati is out to revive her party even as she faces an utterly hopeless situation.
Starting 18 September, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader will start addressing rallies every month on the same date to attract voters and remain relevant in Uttar Pradesh politics. The first rally will be held in Meerut.
“As Mayawati expects the Lok Sabha elections to be advanced to 2018 she has divided the 18 divisions into groups of three so that she is able to address people from these divisions in six months’ time,” said a party insider.
He admitted that with senior leaders and the old guard exiting the party, its revival with the help of new leaders would be a big challenge.
Chances of new leaders associating with her, however, look dim because Mayawati, who was described as a megalomaniac chief minister, refuses to change her arrogant ways despite the battering her party got in the last Lok Sabha and state assembly elections.
The party insider acknowledged that the road ahead for Mayawati was tough. “There is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gradually nibbling away on BSP’s Dalit vote bank. Jatav votes alone won’t help her cause,” he pointed out.
In the 2014 parliamentary elections her party’s vote share of 19.60 per cent did not translate into a single seat. The BSP won 19 seats in the assembly elections 2017, better than its tally of 12 seats in 1991. Having contested all the 403 seats, she managed to get over 22 per cent of votes.
The fear of the CBI or income-tax department cracking down on her must also be haunting Mayawati. Old cases can always be re-opened, the party insider said, citing the example of Lalu Prasad Yadav and family. If the central government indeed decides to go after the BSP boss, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, who levelled serious charges against Mayawati may be too willing to offer help. It would depend on whether he was headed towards the BJP or the Samajwadi Party (SP).
According to Indrajit Saroj, a four-time BSP minister who was expelled from the party allegedly for refusing to pay Rs 15 lakh, Mayawati was “very scared” and may not contest any election but her greed for money was insatiable. “At a recent meeting in Lucknow she was only seeking account details from the participants,” Saroj alleged.
The reason why she had clubbed three divisions for her meetings was said to be her apprehension of the turnout being low.
Saroj, who will be joining SP on 21 September, 2017, was of the view that the party had reached a dead end leaving Dalit politics in the state with a bleak future. “This was not what Kanshi Ram had struggled for,” he said while blaming the party’s founder for having chosen Mayawati as his successor.
Mayawati hardly met people in the past but has now completely snapped ground-level contacts. Saroj, who said he was sacked by Mayawati in five minutes, claimed that behenji had left the path of struggle. “At a meeting held in Delhi on 23 July, she ordered a table and chair to be placed on the dais as she would sit and address rallies,” Saroj said.
Mayawati has systematically removed the old guard with whose support Kanshi Ram had built the party organisation. “Today, she is left with only two of them - Sukhdeo Rajbhar and Ram Achal Rajbhar. Satish ChandraMishra, Ramveer Upadhyay and Lalji Verma, who are still with her, joined much later,” said Saroj who felt that the organisation was in a shambles.
Besides Saroj, the old Kanshi Ram loyalists who were summarily ousted from the party included Baliram Babu, former Rajya Sabha MP, Ambeth Rajan, also a former Rajya Sabha MP, Raja Ram and Daddu Prasad. Of these, Baliram Babu had allegedly told someone that Mayawati was deviating from the Dalit agenda of the All-India Backward (Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Class) And Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and she needed to pore over it. “The word reached Mayawati and she showed him the door,” said a party source.
Though there are Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Udit Raj and Ramdas Athawale, they have found their comfort zones in the BJP government and were no longer Dalit leaders with huge aspirations. A big vacuum at the top stares Dalits, especially in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Here, they were left with the option of supporting the BJP, unless they choose to flock towards the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress. Joining either Congress or the SP may not give them the sense of empowerment which they had when the BSP was in power in UP.
Professor Badri Narayan of GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, dismisses the view that the days of Dalit politics in UP were now over. “It would be wrong to say that. Dalit politics will be there but the form may change,” he said.
About Mayawati, he explained that she will pose a challenge to the BJP but whether she will be successful will depend on her leadership style. “She will have to change the language of political discourse and connect with the people.”
Prof Narayan said that Mayawati had failed to respond to the changed aspirations of Dalits in the new socio-economic dimension of empowerment.
In Indrajit Saroj’s opinion, Mayawati was unlikely to change either her vocabulary or her style of politics. “She is incapable of giving a new direction to Dalit politics.”
On the other hand, the BJP is alert to the new political dynamics. Like it had single-mindedly wooed Dalits before the 2014 elections, the party once again plans to reach out to Dalit groups minus the Jatavs before the 2019 elections.
Many of the Dalit castes being targeted by the BJP in UP do not even figure in Mayawati’s scheme of things, Prof Narayan pointed out. That’s another odd stacked up against her.
Yet, both the party insider and Saroj will keep an eye on Mayawati’s Meerut rally on 18 September.