The 2009 Lok Sabha elections have dealt a double blow to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. It’s not only her dream of becoming prime minister but also her chance of playing a decisive role at the Centre that has been shattered. Also, the resurgence of the Congress in UP now threatens her electoral base as well as her recent experiment with ‘inclusive politics’ which had brought her to power in the state and raised her hopes of leading the country.
In 2007, Mayawati had put an end to the nearly two decade long unstable coalition regimes in UP by steering her Bahujan Samaj Party to a comfortable majority in the assembly. Being the solitary star of her party, she had gone through a rigorous electoral campaign to face the then sitting chief minister Mulayam Singh, a galaxy of leaders led by Bharatiya Janata Party’s L K Advani, and the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi. She had won the battle against all odds.
The victory had made her confident of making huge gains in the Lok Sabha elections and also encouraged ambitions of extending her new found ‘inclusive ideology’ to the rest of India, so that she could emerge as a key figure dictating terms at the national level, if not as PM itself. The Left Front, which was on a moral high horse after withdrawing support to the Centre, was virtually on its knees to make her part of its design to emerge as the nucleus of a third alternative, despite being rebuffed by her on the issue of seat adjustments in UP.
Against her expectation of getting the bulk of the 80 seats, she has been relegated to the third position with only 20 seats. The Congress has emerged as the second largest party with 21 seats and increased its vote share by six per cent. Her whirlwind campaign all over the country could get her only one seat in adjoining Madhya Pradesh.
Mayawati is now confronted with the stark reality. She knows that the rise of the Congress would only be at the cost of her party’s social base. It was Indira Gandhi who had forged a social combination of Brahmins-Dalits-Muslims in UP and Bihar to successfully challenge the then rising agrarian intermediate castes. By the late ’80s, Mayawati, along with her mentor Kanshi Ram, had managed to win over the Dalits in UP. Around the same time, the Brahmins rallied behind the BJP with its Ram Temple campaign and the Muslims, unhappy with the Congress vacillating stance on the Babri mosque dispute, preferred either the SP or the BSP. The process saw the Congress becoming a peripheral actor in UP, with its influence being virtually restricted to the constituencies of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Mayawati was gullible enough to believe the campaign of cronies that her 2007 victory was because her social engineering had brought Brahmins-Dalits-Muslims under the BSP. She may have truly believed that she had successfully appropriated Indira Gandhi’s electoral base against the agrarian social and caste base represented by Mulayam. It was certainly a misreading and misinterpretation of the results.
There is no doubt that her party had assiduously worked through local committees to bring the Brahmins-Dalits-Muslims to share one platform at the grassroot level. But, that was not enough. By all accounts, the 2007 mandate had been a negative one — people outrightly rejecting Mulayam and preferring Mayawati because they did not perceive either the BJP or the Congress as strong enough for administration. This is evident from the fact that of her 206-odd MLAs, 69 were non-Brahmins-Dalits-Muslims. It’s a huge chunk and negates her belief that she it came to power because of the social engineering of three communities. The Lok Sabha results clearly reflect that the Muslims are back with the Congress. So are Brahmins who have a strong sense of political weather and act accordingly — the primary choice varying between the two national parties.
Coming to the Dalits, Mayawati should sense danger. They have not deserted her but there is a perceptible sympathy for the Congress. The BSP’s genesis and success was mainly due to consolidation of her own predominant Jatav community and the Dalit Muslims, which constituted its core vote bank. Her ability to transfer her core vote base to any side, a phenomenon only unique to BSP, has kept her party relevant in UP.
Mayawati of course, understands the dynamics. It was out of sheer anger and helplessness that she had made sarcastic and derogatory remarks against Rahul Gandhi for eating in Dalit homes. She knows quite well that if her party’s ground level social interaction could make a difference with the Brahmins, similar gestures by Rahul Gandhi towards the Dalits has the potential to knock at the very nerve of her party’s edifice.
While her immediate reaction to the 2009 mandate has been knee jerk and whimsical, blaming everyone — the bureaucracy, her party, the Muslims and Brahmins — for her poor show, Mayawati will obviously have to do some introspection. She had ridden to power with a mandate to restore law and order and run the administration with a firm hand. Once she was in power she started courting the very mafia dons against whom she had won the mandate. Of her 80 Lok Sabha candidates, 13 were dons and most of them ruled the roost during Mulayam’s regime. In the public perception, she is not very different from any other power hungry politician willing to go to any extent to win an election. Her core Dalit vote bank is equally unhappy as it does not see perceptible change in the administration with the upper castes maintaining dominance at all levels in governance.
But, it’s not as though she has lost everything. The BSP may have won in only 20 seats, but it came second in 48 seats, compared to 16 of SP, nine of BJP and six of the Congress. Besides, it had polled the maximum popular votes, three per cent ahead of the SP. If she can get her act together, Mayawati can face the Congress onslaught.
In preparing for the next round of electoral battles, Mayawati has no option but to go back to her original image of a leader who can run the administration with an iron hand. Earlier, she had instilled a sense of fear among the officials and that had inspired confidence. It was this image that had brought her to power in UP and not her social engineering.
Mayawati can give a new twist to Dalit politics in India. She had made the transition from the aggressive agenda pursued by her mentor to move to Ambedkar’s vision of inclusive politics. But vision has to translate to good policy, sensible politics and effective governance. She has to build a second line of command in the party. She will also have to realise that inclusive politics cannot be played at the cost of alienating her core vote base and that her ambition to be at the Centre cannot be pursued at the cost of neglecting her basic mandate of providing effective governance in UP.
About the author:
Prakash Patra is a journalist and political commentator