In the 2007 Uttar Pradesh polls, Mayawati’s slogan had been ‘charh gundon kee chhatee pe, mohar lagaao haathi pe’ (Trample upon goons; cast your vote for the BSP’s elephant). The key words were: sarv samaj (all castes, not just Dalits) and law and order.
By 2009, law and order took a beating, with criminals getting BSP tickets and the Lok Sabha polls became all about social engineering (sarv samaj).
Today, Mayawati is back to the law and order theme, announcing that she would throw out 500 criminals who had joined the BSP before the General Elections.
“We are preparing a list of people with criminal backgrounds who have managed to seek entry into our party. We will show them the door,” she said on Sunday.
In 2009, her rivals had nailed the BSP’s criminalisation with the slogan ‘gunde charh gaye haathi pe, goli maarein chhatee pe’ (Goons have climbed onto the elephant, and are shooting people in the chest).
Mayawati had thought sarv samaj alone would see her through. It did not.
Now, with the Congress re-emerging in the state, the BSP chief is not only toning down the sarv samaj rhetoric to consolidate Dalits, but also returning to the law and order issue to appeal to the larger society.
“Law and order issues appeal to the urban middle class, which is largely upper caste,” says Badri Narayan, an Allahabad-based expert on UP’s Dalit movement. “At a time when Mayawati has to guard her core Dalit base, it is the law and order discourse that can still make her appeal to the middle classes, who would be more inclined towards Congress.”
“Law and order was Mayawati’s initial strength; she was known to throw thousands of criminals behind bars in 1995,” says JNU sociologist Vivek Kumar. “In Lok Sabha polls, law and order is not that crucial an issue, but in Assembly polls, this will be a major issue.”