The Dark Horse Of UP Election: Mayawati Cannot Be Written Off, Not Yet.
The only catch is that if there is a three-way split in Muslim votes -between SP, Congress and BSP - Mayawati may not be a clear winner.
However, she may still hold the key to power in case of a hung assembly.
Ever since the countdown to Uttar Pradesh elections began, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati was treated as an underdog. After the 8 November surgical strike on currency notes, it was presumed that she had been dealt a crippling blow. Mayawati’s loyalists regarded her as captaining a sinking ship and switched loyalties to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), leaving the Dalit leader with a hopeless scenario.
The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) feuding leadership appeared to further stack up odds against Mayawati-led BSP. The state’s Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had suddenly become assertive against his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav. Hundreds of crores had been spent on advertisements by the state’s Department of Information and Public Relations to project Akhilesh Yadav’s pro-development image, with the local and state media fully behind him.
Opinions were divided on the young chief minister who had sidelined the old guard, including his family members, to send out the message that he was anti-criminal and welfare oriented unlike his elders. One set of opinion was that Akhilesh would come out trumps in the elections because a slew of welfare and populist measures had endeared him to the masses, mainly the youth. The contrarians were of the view that Mulayam’s mantra for winning elections was more effective than Akhilesh’s. Without Mulayam and Shivpal to guide him, Akhilesh was bound to flounder, they predicted.
The BJP’s stock, compared to that of the BSP, remained high until its rank and file rebelled over outsiders being given preferential treatment in ticket distribution. It cultivated a pro-OBC and pro-Dalit image to take on the SP and the BSP. The SP came under fire for corruption, poor development and lawlessness in the state while the BSP was attacked for being corrupt. The BJP leaders made one believe that the BSP was nowhere in contention.
Mayawati continued to work quietly to bounce back into the fight attacking the Prime Minister and demonetisation at every opportunity, and changing her strategy. For the first time the party took to social media for campaigning and roped in Europeans to upload pro Mayawati messages. As she was being castigated for spending tax-payers’ money on statues, the former chief minister promised not to build any more statues in case she is voted back to power.
These changes are ornamental and cannot be expected to make much of a difference in BSP’s fortunes as the BJP and SP are miles ahead of her in this game. The more substantive advantage she enjoys over others is the perception of her being a tough administrator.
Seats won by Mayawati in the previous state elections do not match with the percentage of votes polled by her. With 25.9 per cent votes in 2012, the BSP won only 80 seats whereas with a lesser percentage of 23.1 the party won 98 seats in 2002. The party’s high moment came in 2007 when it won 206 seats after polling 30.4 per cent of votes.
In the Lok Sabha elections of 1996, BSP polled 21 per cent votes and won six seats, but failed to open its account with 19.6 per cent votes in 2014.
Her social engineering formula, which paid rich dividends in 2007, failed to work in 2012 after serious allegations of corruption, and in 2014 parliamentary polls. She is back with the idea but the thrust this time is on Muslim votes. In the previous two elections the focus was more on upper castes.
Pre-poll surveys carried out in December give Mayawati 23 per cent votes in 2017 but place it behind SP and BJP. These surveys see the contest between SP and BJP, some even giving majority to the SP. Whether the infighting in SP and BJP rebels were factored into these surveys is unclear.
Yet to write Mayawati off is difficult especially when the Rashtriya Ulama Council, AMU students and some other Muslim groups have started looking at it as a credible option. Her Dalit vote bank of around 20 per cent and 18 per cent Muslims could together influence the poll outcome in Mayawati’s favour and that is what she seems to be banking on.
The only catch is that if there is a three-way split in Muslim votes -between SP, Congress and BSP - Mayawati may not be a clear winner. However, she may still hold the key to power in case of a hung assembly.
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