Soon after Mayawati became Uttar Pradesh chief minister in 1995, her bête noire Mulayam Singh Yadav said, “The Congress has committed a political blunder by propping up a Dalit leader in the state. Now the party has lost Dalit support forever.”
He was bang on. Once Dalits discovered Mayawati, they never returned to the Congress, which had by then also lost the support of Muslims.
The community held the Congress as much responsible as the BJP for the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, when the country was led by Congress prime minister Narasimha Rao. UP was under a BJP government led by chief minister Kalyan Singh.
The Samajwadi Party, founded a few months ago in October 1992, was soon to cash in on the anti-Congress and anti-BJP mood. Since then, the SP and BSP have dictated the state’s politics, experimenting with post-poll alliances, barring the 1996 assembly elections when Mayawati had a pre-poll understanding with the Congress but eventually formed a government with the BJP after the elections. Narain Dutt Tiwari was the last Congress chief minister in 1989.
The BJP, however, manoeuvred its way to the chief minister’s chair from 1997 to 2002. The Congress and BJP slogans for the 2017 polls — “27 Saal, UP Behaal” and “14-year-exile is ending” — mirror the desperation of the parties.
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Strategically, both Mayawati and Mulayam prefer an independent trek to the poll arena while remaining open for post-poll mathematics to reach the magic figure of 202 in a House of 403.
Now, there’s a real threat to their supremacy from a resurgent BJP, which had polled 42.63 % votes in the 2014 general election. But can the BJP, which had polled 15% vote in the 2012 assembly polls, break the hegemony of not one but two regional parties?
“In recent assembly elections in the country, the BJP has done well in the state wherever it is in direct contest with the Congress. (But) it has failed against powerful regional players,” said political expert Chitranjan Mishra.
Going by the simple logic of the state rotating governments, it’s the BSP’s turn to regain power. Yet, Mayawati cannot be very confident as 2017 will witness a multi-cornered contest instead of a straight battle with the SP.
Also, developments since 2007 have to be factored in. Such as revival of the BJP and its Hindutva agenda that it had shelved after the Babri mosque demolition, rise of popular figures like Narendra Modi and Akhilesh Yadav, fissures in Mayawati’s party as well as vote bank, family feud and generational issues in SP, and last-ditch efforts by the Congress to revive the party — the Gandhis not only hired Prashant Kishore but also, for the first time, announced their chief ministerial candidate.
For the BSP, the challenge thrown by party rebels, Swamy Prasad Maurya and RK Choudhary, is less damaging than the collapse of her social engineering formula that had paved the way for her first majority government in 2007.
Like Muslims, the Dalits, especially Jatavs, may also vote tactically in favour of the winning horse to stall the return of SP to power. And to defeat the SP, Dalits have an option in BJP.
Mayawati’s efforts to woo Muslims by giving maximum tickets to them may also not yield much result as there are too many claimants for their votes. Asauddin Owaisi of AIMIM too has a huge following amongst the youth.
As for the SP, its best bet is its chief ministerial face. Even critics of Akhilesh Yadav’s style of functioning appreciate his non-controversial image. However, challenges are huge. Besides chachas and bhatijas, many of the sitting MLAs have indulged in mining, land grabbing and other activities — a fact publicly admitted by both Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav. This has tarnished the government’s image.
The SP’s vote bank is fragile. While Yadavs may stick to SP, Muslims will vote for the winning horse against the BJP. Political pundits foresee major gains for the BJP, if the Muslim and Dalit vote bank is divided.