Mayawati could lose her hold on western Uttar Pradesh if she fails to combat the high-decibel BJP campaign. But Mayawati is busy touring the country, trying to retain her pan-India image, while her rivals are storming the region that stands sharply communally polarised.
Her BSP colleagues explain her absence from UP, saying, "The BSP is a national party, Mayawati is its national president and the ensuing polls are to elect a new government at the Centre."
However, whatever clout Mayawati wields at the Centre post-elections depends on her situation in her home state, especially western UP and Gorakhpur region in the east.
Western UP is important for the BSP not only because of the 2009 elections windfall that came the party's way but because Dalits here are more politically and socially awakened than the rest of the state.
But thanks to the BJP's aggressive campaigning in the current communally surcharged environment, the saffron party has an edge.
The recent statements by Imran Masood, Congress Lok Sabha candidate from Saharanpur, against BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, which led to the former's arrest, have added fuel to the fire.
Social scientist Badri Narain of Dalit Resource Centre said, "The Jatavs started progressing much before the Partition. Under BR Ambedkar's umbrella, they grew economically too; they acquired land and money. The BSP thus got a fertile area and it stoked their political ambitions and aspirations."
The rise of the BSP also coincides with the Ram temple/Babri mosque movement of the BJP, which began subsiding after the demolition of the disputed structure in 1992. The BSP emerged as a viable alternative to the BJP for the Dalit-Muslim population concentrated in the western UP belt.
Incidentally, the SP's core vote base of Yadavs is negligible in many constituencies while the political health of the Congress is fragile. Yet Muslims' support paved the way for the SP's victory on seven of the ten seats in 2004.
Post-Muzaffarnagar riots, however, the Jatavs were being lured by the Hindutva ideology. But some desperate steps taken by Mayawati have helped check the exodus of her support base to the saffron party.
What now, though? While the BJP's campaign runs door-to-door along with mega-rallies, Mayawati is holding her very first visit on April 3 even as ten of the seats, including riot-torn Muzaffarnagar, go to polls a week later.
In fact, Mayawati has not visited Muzaffarnagar after the riots even once, which has not gone down well with the minority community – especially since Mulayam Singh tried to recover the lost ground by sharing the dais with Jamai-ul-Hind leader Mehmood Madani in Saharanpur recently.
The caste and communal combination
Banking on the Dalit-Muslim combination, Mayawati won five of the ten seats, including Muzaffarnagar, in 2009. Of the remaining five, two each went to RLD and BJP while one was won by the Congress.
The BSP won Muzaffarnagar by a narrow margin of about 20,000 votes. Of the 16 lakh voters in the constituency, Muslims account for over four lakhs while Jatavs (who largely vote for Mayawati) are about 2.10 lakhs.
The other prominent castes are Jat, Tahkur and Bania, which explains why RLD, which had contested the polls in alliance with the BJP, ended up second. Thus, for Mayawati to retain the seat that has changes party loyalties every election – SP in 2004 and Congress in 1999 – the combined votes of Dalit-Muslims are imperative. However, the constituency stands communally polarised at the moment.
A similar story is emerging from the remaining four constituencies going to polls in the first phase – Saharanpur, Kairana, Gautambudh Nagar and Aligarh, where elections will be fought by communities not on issues but for their 'survival' in the area.
Here as well, the victory margin was from 15,000 to 20,000 votes, barring Saharanpur where BSP won by 80,000 votes.
A few days ago, a senior SP leader had said, "The election trend will be clear after the first phase of polling as the unpredictable mood of the Muslim electorate will be known."
He was referring to the 2012 assembly elections, when the voting pattern had remained the same in the eastern and the western parts of UP.
The Congress had lost the elections to the SP in the very first round of polling that began from Barabanki and covered eastern UP before moving to the west.
This time, polling starts from the west, and Mayawati has huge political stakes here. She has often said that her party's strength is being always the first in everything, from ticket distribution to campaigning.
The losers are the laggards. Perhaps the BSP cadre is keeping the ground hot for Mayawati to come back and take the region by storm??