BSP supremo Mayawati virtually took Lucknow by storm on Sunday, when she put up a truly formidable show of strength at the sprawling Kanshi Ram Memorial.
The mega event, however, left two dead and at least 15 wounded in a mild stampede in one corner of the giant venue, where hundreds of thousands gathered to brave the scorching sun and intolerable humidity.
Sure enough, Mayawati left no stone unturned to prove that the series of desertions by a couple of her partymen over the past few months had left her undaunted.
And the mammoth crowd (over 300,000 by moderate estimates even as the party claimed it to be a million) she could mobilise on the sprawling 90-acre Kanshi Ram memorial complex affirmed that the betrayal by some of her followers had not dented her following.
Mayawati, who had been lying low ever since she was voted out of Uttar Pradesh in 2012 due to Akhilesh Yadav’s youthful charisma, chose to emerge out of her shell particularly since the SP has lost its sheen with different players of the ruling Yadav clan washing their dirty linen in public.
Even as the ostensible occasion was the 10th death anniversary of BSP founder and Mayawati's mentor Kanshi Ram, the inimitable party president chose to virtually declare war on all her political opponents , ahead of the 2017 state Assembly elections. “I am launching my party’s election campaign from here today,” she declared.
In a significant move, she also chose to announce her key strategy to go all out for a Dalit-Muslim combine to take her party on a winning streak and ride on to power once again.
"I would like to appeal to Muslims not to waste their vote by casting it in favour of the SP or Congress and remember that BSP alone is capable of giving BJP a run for their money," Mayawati told the surging crowd.
And she also made it a point to emphasise how the ruling SP - usually regarded as the number one choice of Muslims - was now a sinking ship .
"The SP is a divided house - one led by Akhilesh and the other by Shivpal Yadav (his uncle). And both would move heaven and earth to damage each other, so any vote cast in favour of the SP is bound to go waste," she pointed out.
|While running down the SP as a party of goons, she termed the BJP as an outfit of religious bigots and riot-mongers. (Photo credit: India Today)|
She urged Muslims to recall how the SP government’s poor handling of the situation had led to a bloodbath in Muzaffarnagar where Muslims remained at the receiving end. She also cited the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri as another glaring failure of the Akhilesh government in ensuring safety and security of the minority community in the state.
As if to cover her guilt of aligning with the BJP on three previous occasions, Mayawati made it a point to reassure Muslims that such a situation would not be repeated under any circumstance now.
While running down the SP as a party of goons and criminals, she termed the BJP as an outfit of religious bigots and riot-mongers. Under the circumstances, she said, her party alone could ensure the safety of citizens.
She went on to add: “Remember, communal riots do not happen; they are fuelled. BJP is known for inciting Hindu-Muslim violence. And mind you, the victims are always the downtrodden and the poor.”
While hailing the Indian Army for the surgical strikes against Pakistan, she flayed the Narendra Modi government for going out of its way to take political mileage out of that. And very skillfully, she trained her guns at Modi by running him down on his decision to attend the Dussehra ceremony in Lucknow.
“At a time when the government should be honouring the soldiers who carried out the surgical strikes or paying homage to those who laid down their lives in Uri, Narendra Modi was flying down to Lucknow to celebrate Dussehra – again with the obvious intent of making political capital out of a religious occasion. At least now these people ought to have been modest and sober,” she remarked.
Clearly enthused by the massive cheering crowds, she exuded confidence that the desertion by some of her trusted partymen over the recent past would not affect the political fortunes of the party at the hustings.
Without spelling out names, she made an obvious reference to her former state president Swami Prasad Maurya, RK Chaudhary, Brijesh Misra and some others who switched loyalties to the BJP.
She said: "The BJP ought to know that all those who crossed over from my party to their side are clearly our rejected stuff and will prove to be of no good to them."
Citing the recent anti-Dalit attacks in different parts of the country, including the Rohith Vemula incident in Hyderabad, Una violence against Dalit youth in Gujarat as well as former UP BJP leader Dayashankar Singh's remarks against herself, she sought to emphasise that it was only during her rule that the downtrodden community remained safe.
"It is therefore important that you all ensure the BSP is voted back to power. I can assure you that I will provide not only corruption-free governance but will also ensure the end of the prevailing jungle raj and restoration of the rule of law in this state,” she declared amid resounding cheer.
The success of a rally of such magnitude is bound to rattle all of Mayawati’s political adversaries and more so the ruling SP.
However, with a view to showing the government’s generosity, chief minister Akhilesh has promptly announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh for each of the two women who died on account of exhaustion at the rally.