On the first day of 2014, BSP chief Mayawati’s close lieutenant SC Mishra was busy receiving visitors, including bureaucrats, at his sprawling bungalow in Lucknow. As people walked in with bouquets, a party worker said, "Who says it’s all over for the BSP? Babus never visit terminally sick parties."
Soon after, Mishra said, "When political pundits are predicting the growth of regional parties in 2014, how can the BSP be far behind?"
Two years after losing Uttar Pradesh to the Samajwadi Party by 2.5% votes, the beleaguered Mayawati not only moved bag and baggage to Delhi but also kept everyone guessing what her next move would be, triggering speculation of a pre-poll alliance with the Congress in the politically crucial state that has 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Mishra, however, was quick to scotch the rumours.
"Where is the question of allying with the Congress when my party has already declared candidates for all 80 seats?" he asked.
Another party leader quipped, "Why should we sail on a sinking ship?" Mishra said Mayawati would clear all doubts at her birthday rally in Lucknow on January 15.
What is a matter of concern for the BSP, however, is that deep cracks have developed in the party’s caste foundation. Though the BSP still banks on the Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin combination and a sprinkling of backward support, the fact is that the upper caste is moving towards Narendra Modi.
After the Muzaffarnagar riots, Muslims are enraged and confused but may eventually vote tactically in each Lok Sabha constituency with a single-point mission to defeat the BJP.
And though Mishra feels the SP is now the last choice for the Muslims, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s ability to manage them at the eleventh hour can’t be underestimated.
Mayawati, who didn’t visit Muzaffarnagar but sent a fact-finding team four months after the riots, should be worried by the communal polarisation in western UP, where her vote bank of Jatavs will not be insulated from changes in the region’s social fabric.
Moreover, AAP could emerge as an option for Muslims, though much would depend on Arvind Kejriwal’s performance as Delhi’s chief minister and the kind of candidates AAP fields.
Then, the anti-incumbency factor against the Akhilesh Yadav government may not entirely benefit the BSP in the Lok Sabha elections now that the Modi factor has revived the BJP and its hopes.
Thus, the BSP’s only strengths at present are its well-oiled party machinery across the state, its openness to a post-poll alliance and the fact that the BSP won 21 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and came second in 39. "We will certainly improve our tally from 21," said Mishra confidently.
Mayawati will have to navigate through choppy waters despite the willingness of all and sundry to court her party in the event of a hung house at the Centre. Her party’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls will eventually have a bearing on UP that will go to assembly polls three years later.