Is it end of the road for Mayawati?

Once touted as a potential prime minister, Mayawati is today dismissed as an untrustworthy ally. The fact that she failed to make headway in any other state appears to have convinced even her core supporters that the brand of Dalit aggression championed by her was on the decline

opinion Updated: Nov 17, 2017 17:59 IST
Mayawati,Uttar Pradesh,Kanshi Ram
Mayawati might have retained her grip on the Dalits had the BJP not launched an aggressive campaign to reach out to them, using Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s message of Antyodaya(Deepak Gupta/HT)

The law of physics says whatever goes up must come down. But such a law does not necessarily apply to political parties; some of them go up and down like a yo-yo, some keep going up and up and some vanish without a trace. Take the case of the Republican Party of India (RPI) founded by India’s first Dalit icon, Babasaheb Ambedkar. A series of fratricidal divisions later, today it totters on the brink of dissipation, a token minister in the NDA government notwithstanding.

The second serious attempt to forge a Dalit party, spearheaded originally by Kanshi Ram and taken to dizzy heights by his compatriot and chosen successor, Mayawati, is now facing an existential problem: Can the party recover from the abyss into which it has sunk and, if so, through what strategic innovation? Had it not been for its near obliteration in Uttar Pradesh after this year’s assembly election, Mayawati loyalists may have entertained some hopes of its phoenix-like rise. But with its decimation in the one state which it once ruled, even its hard-core supporters will find it difficult to paint an optimistic picture.

The biggest question the feisty Dalit leader must be asking herself now is where have her supporters disappeared? What about the fabled organisation Kanshi Ram had bequeathed to her? Whatever happened to her flirtation with Bahujan (Dalits plus OBCS plus underprivileged Muslims) and later Sarvajan (an all inclusive if ephemeral phalanx of all castes and communities)? The unkindest cut of all for Mayawati is that today even her core support base of the Dalits seems to have deserted; the rest could not have been banked upon anyway.

Kanshi Ram was an organisation builder. Starting with a trade union of government employees called BAMCEF, he built the fledgling DS4 (Dalit-Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti), focusing on his home state of Punjab. The DS4 achieved no real electoral success and Kanshi Ram realised that without a firebrand leader (which he was not), a new political party would never make a mark. He zeroed in on a school teacher from western UP to don that mantle, and after several false starts, Mayawati began to taste success in the early 1990s.

In 2007, the BSP swept to power in UP on the back of its Sanskritised poll plank ‘Sarvajan Hitay, Sarvajan Sukhay’ (in the interest of all, for the happiness of all). By then she had realised that the Dalits alone could not propel her to office. Disastrous power sharing arrangements, first with the Samajwadi Party and later, the BJP, convinced her that her authority even as chief minister in any coalition regime would be limited. Besides be it the OBCs (read Yadavs) or upper castes, none would readily treat the Dalits as equals. But directly reaching out to them on her new-found ‘Sarvajan’ platform yielded rich dividends, when a sizeable section of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and a smattering of Muslims switched to the BSP.

But much water had flowed down the Ganga and Yamuna by the time Mayawati attained her ambition of becoming UP chief minister with a clear majority in the assembly. The influence of Mandal versus Kamandal politics may have waned somewhat by then, but it remained a potent force. More importantly, Mayawati’s record of five years in office did little to enhance her credibility even among the Dalits.

She enacted several legislations to curb atrocities against members of her community, posted Scheduled Caste officers in the administration and police in most districts, but could not do anything to change feudal mindsets or break the dominance of the Rajputs, Brahmins and Yadavs in rural society. Moreover, her reputation as a corrupt and self-serving politician steadily gained ground. Her claim that Dalits should be proud that a “Dalit ki Beti” was seen in glittering solitaires did little to enthuse her impoverished followers.

But she might have retained her grip on the Dalits had the BJP not launched an aggressive campaign to reach out to them, using Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s message of Antyodaya. But even more devastating was Narendra Modi’s stupendous success in selling the prosperity dream to the Dalit and other backwards. Both in 2014 and 2017 election campaigns, Modi sold aspiration to the people, pointing to development as panacea to their abject poverty.

The BJP took identity politics head on and convincingly asked the Dalits how Mayawati’s rule had benefited them economically. Having gained little from BSP rule, the Dalits were prepared to experiment, especially in 2017. The fact that Mayawati failed to make headway in any other state, primarily on account of her authoritarian style, appears to have convinced even her core supporters that the brand of Dalit aggression championed by her was on the decline.

Relegated to a cul-de-sac, Mayawati can only hope for a miraculous turnaround in her fortunes. Dismissed as an untrustworthy ally, she will also find it difficult in future to strike electoral alliances. The present cul-de-sac may well be the end of the road for the woman who was once touted as a potential prime minister.

Chandan Mitra is editor of The Pioneer and is a two-time Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 17:58 IST