Mayawati’s googly: The BSP game plan in 2018-19

By rejecting tie-ups with Congress in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the sharp political player is keeping her options — including with BJP — wide open.

 |  5-minute read |   04-10-2018
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It is not possible to understand Mayawati’s movements in any straight sequence of events leading to an ultimate destination. She’s swinging this way and that — but behind such vacillations, there is a strategy at work. After striking a deal with ex-Congressman Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh some weeks ago, she’s now announced that “under no circumstance” would she ally with the Congress for the coming state elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. 

Is that bye-bye, Mahagathbandhan?Is that bye-bye, Mahagathbandhan? (Photo: PTI/file)

With that, she delivered a huge psychological blow to the idea of a grand anti-BJP alliance with the Congress at the pivot (as the Congress imagines it should be).

She was harsh in her words. The Congress, she said, is still clinging on to its arrogance and does not want to “mend its ways”. There was more: “The truth is that the people are unwilling to forgive the Congress for their corrupt government,” and the Congress’ intention is not to defeat the BJP but to cause harm to friendly parties.

The day before, on October 2, she had attacked the BJP and accused it of leading the country to anarchy (in the face of the farmers’ protests on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border). She warned the BJP of “consequences” for being anti-poor and anti-farmer. “The BJP, which came to power promising to bring the good days of the farmers by doubling their income, has targeted them with tear-gas shells, lathis, when they only wanted to agitate against anti-poor state and central governments of the BJP,” she said.

Mayawati has been critical of the BJP government over the farmers’ protests.Mayawati has been critical of the BJP government over the farmers’ protests. (Photo: PTI)

How do we read Mayawati?

It should now be clear that the BSP chief may indeed go for an alliance with the SP in the end, but only if she extracts a huge chunk of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats for herself (40 plus). It still makes good sense for her to be with Akhilesh’s SP — but the Congress is a negligible force in Uttar Pradesh and it would be up to the SP to give seats from its quota to all other parties. Akhilesh Yadav, on his part, has been saying that he would be happy to give more than take in the cause of a grand alliance. 

Once upon a (not-so-long) time.Once upon a (not-so-long) time. (Photo: PTI/file)

What this also means is that going with Akhilesh’s SP for her own survival does not automatically indicate that Mayawati will be an ally of the Congress. She is also reinforcing the centrality of regional forces.

Besides, as Mayawati becomes a central figure, it’s important to recall that she has had an understanding in the past with the BJP, with whose support she had one of her four chief ministerial terms in Uttar Pradesh. 

Remember, Mayawati has an old tie with the BJP.Remember, Mayawati has an old tie with the BJP. (Photo: PTI/file)

She will remain equidistant from both national parties till some clarity emerges after the three assembly polls later this year. Is there actually an anti-BJP momentum that opposing parties can build a political chemistry on?

Her cards will be revealed closer to the Lok Sabha polls due in the heat and dust of the summer of 2019. She will watch the assembly polls due later this year — and if the BJP shows signs of recovery in states where it is challenged (Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh), she will negotiate her politics in a manner so as to be a necessary alliance partner to India’s pre-eminent party.

There are two things that have happened since the SP-BSP alliance won significant by-polls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh in March this year. That was supposed to have been the template for knocking the winds out of the BJP’s sails in India’s largest state, where the Modi-run party got a near-clean sweep in 2014.

First, it’s quite clear that SP dissident Shivpal Yadav will be the vote-cutter in Uttar Pradesh, where his nephew, former CM Akhilesh Yadav, is seriously committed to the grand alliance idea. The Amit Shah-run BJP specialises in the strategy of encouraging vote-cutting forces, and Shivpal will not be short of resources. 

How this works on the ground to help the BJP is like this — the SP is a party with cadre and organisational depth across UP. When it concedes half the seats in the state to the BSP, which also has organisational depth, the SP cadres and potential candidates in those seats would be left facing a vacuum, their ambitions thwarted. They could sit twiddling their thumbs or they could back the BSP, which would not always work due to social and caste chemistry on the ground. Some of them could therefore gravitate to a vote-cutting force that claims to represent the same social groups that support the SP. That is why Shivpal is not a great entity by himself — but a potential weapon in the BJP arsenal.

Is Shivpal SP’s rebel with a (BJP) cause?Is Shivpal SP’s rebel with a (BJP) cause? (Photo: PTI/file)

The BJP is getting such pragmatic and transactional arrangements going with purpose and planning.

A back-channel has also been opened to Mayawati, say sources, offering her any kind of arrangement in the future — besides the promise of going easy on corruption cases. The Congress leadership has in the meantime been on pilgrimages and probably gained in spiritual and physical health. 

From Mansarovar to Mayawati, it’s back to reality for Rahul GandhiFrom Mansarovar to Mayawati, it’s back to reality for Rahul Gandhi. (Photo: DailyO)

But it has quite missed the BSP bus — and will pay a price for it.   

Also read: Is Mayawati overestimating herself or is she under BJP pressure?


Saba Naqvi Saba Naqvi @_sabanaqvi

Eminent political journalist and writer. Author, most recently of Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee To Modi

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