It is all very fine to be the big fish in the small pond up to a point. But Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati’s inability to expand her base outside Uttar Pradesh will stand in the way of her becoming a contender for prime ministership should an alliance apart from the UPA or the NDA come within striking distance of power.
While all other small, regional parties have shown keenness, at some point of time or the other, to be part of a bloc, Ms Mayawati has kept aloof. It is tempting to interpret this aloofness in terms of her confidence that she could stay relevant in national politics with whatever numbers she could muster. But remaining within the confines of Uttar Pradesh and not extending the base of her party can turn out to be a game of diminishing returns.
When the BSP was born in 1984, it rested purely on a Dalit foundation. Subsequently the party broadbased itself and took on Brahmins and members of other communities. In 1993 her alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav was seen as an expression of solidarity of the lower castes against the dominance of the upper orders.
Ms Mayawati has an advantage that no caste-based party has — her support base, the Dalits, is spread all over India. Despite that if support for her and her party is shrinking, it can be put down to either rival parties springing up or national parties strengthening their Dalit base. It is extremely surprising that the BSP has not been able to make a dent in Tamil Nadu, whose Dalit population almost equals that of Uttar Pradesh.
Nor is it clear why the party could not expand in Punjab, the state to which Kanshi Ram, the BSP founder, belonged. It must be said to the credit of Ms Mayawati that when she was chief minister from 2007 to 2012, law and order in UP was better than it is now and she did not hesitate to take action against her own ministers. But what she has not been able to do is to win over sections that are on the fringes of Dalit society. Her open support for splitting Uttar Pradesh was not received well by those who wish the political importance of the state to be sustained. What she needs to have is an articulation mechanism for her views and ideology, for which a second line of leadership is necessary.