At a time when politicians are engaged in a vocabulary of violence — from chopping to avenging — the once-venomous Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati is surprisingly restrained.
People still remember her televised exchange of barbs with late Samajwadi Party leader Ram Saran Das; they had called each other ‘goonda-goondi’. They recall too the belligerence with which she had taken on Vice President Hamid Ansari compelling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene.
But the tenor of Mayawati’s campaign is surprisingly different this election. Few believe she — the ‘master’ of verbal attacks — has mellowed. When the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said the Congress ‘disrespected’ BR Ambedkar, she hit back instantly, taking credit for pressuring VP Singh to confer Bharat Ratna on the Dalit icon.
She also retaliated after attempts to poach on her core Dalit votes. And the only time she went personal was against Modi at a rally: ‘Jisne apni aurat ko saath nahin rakkha, woh kaise desh ka pradhan mantri ban sakta (How can someone who deserted his wife become the country’s prime minister)?’
But Mayawati has refused to join the hate speech club, concentrating on defragmenting the Dalit-Muslim votes, wherein lies her party’s future. In most of her speeches she is cautioning Muslims of probable communal flare-ups if Modi becomes prime minister, reminding them of Muzaffarnagar riots during SP’s regime and warning Dalits against electing a government that will withdraw their reservation rights.
Aware that the focus on minorities may upset her core voters, she carefully puts to rest all opposition propaganda. “You must remember it’s Mayawati who is winning on the 19 seats (where party has fielded Muslim candidates),” she says.
The provocative slogans that one associated the BSP with are missing, perhaps indicative of the inclusive politics Mayawati adopted in the 2007 assembly polls. This, says social activist Guru Prasad Madan, also reflects her confidence about what she does or doesn’t.
“Earlier slogans such as ‘tilak taraju aur talwar, inko maaro joote chaar (kick out the upper castes)’ reflected the angst of the suppressed classes and were used as powerful tools to mobilise them,” he said, adding the catchphrases changed in 2007 to differentiate the BSP from ‘criminalised’ rivals.
Besides, provocative language would have undermined her ‘sarvajan hitaye (prosperity for all)’ approach.
Badri Narain of Dalit Resource Centre feels Mayawati has matured politically to keep casteism in check. But detractors like retired IPS officer SR Darapuri say the paradigm shift is because Mayawati’s base is shrinking.
A BSP leader sums it up: “Behenji knows her strength. She is not edgy like others and has no need to be abusive.”