Behenji’, as she’s popularly known among her acolytes, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati seems to have made the first move to consolidate her slipping Dalit vote bank. Her resignation from the Rajya Sabha citing atrocities against Dalits in BJP-ruled states is a deft move to stay relevant in national politics. After losing out to archrival Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav in the 2012 UP assembly polls, she had vowed to reverse the political narrative. But her performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and assembly elections earlier this year was so dismal that she naturally feared that the BSP that she inherited from her mentor Kanshiram, was near extinction. Not only did she lose badly in Uttar Pradesh, but due to the depleted rank and file also posed a serious threat to her party going forward. Several of her stalwart Dalit leaders moved on to either the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party or Rashtriya Lok Dal headed by Ajit Singh.
Mayawati may have been right in her assessment that the time to resurrect her party had come and that she needed to expand her voter base and get ready for the ultimate battle in 2019. All said and done, Mayawati has withstood the political tide in the last two decades. Now, her strategy seems to be to first consolidate the 22 per cent Dalit vote bank that continue to support her BSP in the key battle ground state, Uttar Pradesh. Though fielding over 100 Muslim candidates in the last legislative assembly elections did not do the trick, she will have to compete aggressively to win the minority votes vis-à-vis the Samajwadi Party in two years from now. If one were to understand her strategies, she’s expected to make yet another decisive attempt to break into the Muslim-Yadav vote bank, which is mainstay of the faction ridden Yadav clan-run Samajwadi Party. Raising the bogey of Hindu militancy as her theme song, the BSP supremo seems determined to corner a significant chunk of Muslim votes, citing atrocities against the minorities under the Yogi Adityanath-Narendra Modi regimes. Only after that will she try and woo back the upper caste Hindus, who have shifted their allegiance to the BJP.
Yet another round of social engineering is the only way Mayawati can truly turn BSP into a party of ‘bahujan samaj’. While she continues to enjoy the ‘Dalit’ branding across states, Ram Vilas Paswan is the only other leader who has survived ideological, caste and party politics to represent a chunk of the Dalits in Bihar. Other big names like Meira Kumar (Bihar) or Sushil Kumar Shinde (Maharastra) were never considered representatives of Dalit masses except for being Congress props. Mayawati’s move to play martyr for Dalits has come full nine months before ending her term as Rajya Sabha member. Interestingly, the BSP does not have enough numbers to secure her re-election in the Upper House. Behenji’s move has come a day after presidential elections were fought by the BJP and Congress-led alliances on a blatant Dalit card, with she watching on the sidelines. Sensing that the plot was slipping away, Mayawati has made her move. While her move to remain relevant, as a ‘Dalit messiah’ is understandable, it may not be enough to make BSP a winner. Widening the BSP platform beyond the Dalits, Muslims and other minorities would be the biggest challenge for her not only in Uttar Pradesh, but other states as well.