With an all-time low tally of just 19 members in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati may appear to be devastatingly down.
However, the manner in which the all-powerful BJP is rattled over her inclination to contest the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat clearly reflects that the much talked about Behenji is far from being written off even by a formidable ruling party.
The melodrama she staged to make a loud exit from the Rajya Sabha last week was a master-stroke that got her back to the centrestage of Dalit politics, where a smart charismatic PM Narendra Modi had upstaged her both in the 2014 general election as well as in the March 2017 UP Assembly poll.
Everyone knew that it was no big deal for her to resign from the Rajya Sabha barely nine months before her actual term comes to an end in April 2018. But the symbolism behind the sudden dramatic move, followed by speculation about her intent to contest the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat to be vacated by BJP’s Keshav Prasad Maurya, has created ripples in the state’s political cauldron.
For the first time since Modi’s meteoric rise in 2014, the BJP seems to be going on the backfoot. Maurya, who is one of the two deputy chief ministers of UP, was getting all set to fulfil the constitutional obligation of seeking an Assembly seat through a by-election. However, no sooner than Mayawati’s name cropped up as the probable contender for the Phulpur seat, there has been commotion in top BJP circles.
If insiders are to be believed, Maurya is being asked to stick with his parliamentary seat and make a move to the Union Cabinet instead of continuing as deputy CM. Surely, that has put Maurya in a Catch-22 situation.
Amit Shah and Modi have only one option now. Photo: PTI
The top BJP leadership’s predicament is also about finding a candidate who can match Mayawati’s potential as a Dalit contestant for the reserved Phulpur seat. The region has a sizeable population of Dalits and more particularly the Jatavs, who have stood by Mayawati even in the worst of times. Even other sections of Dalits are bound to rally behind the BSP icon, since she herself would be in the fray.
What can make things worse for any BJP nominee in such a crucial contest is the increasing possibility of Mayawati receiving all out support of the entire Opposition. Mayawati’s own strength, together with the combined strength of all opposition parties, is likely to humble BJP’s might. More significantly, that could well mark the beginning of a new “mahagathbandhan” (grand alliance) ahead of the more crucial 2019 Lok Sabha election.
BJP’s defeat under the circumstances could mean much more than a mere blow on a particular seat. Hence, the only way the saffron brigade can wriggle out of the impending mess can be by avoiding the Phulpur election. And that would mean compelling Maurya to move to the Union Cabinet so that the vulnerable LS seat is not up for grabs.
Sure enough, that must be the last thing desired by Maurya, who was one of the key contenders for the UP chief minister’s position, until it was usurped by the saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath.
A shift to Delhi is bound to mar his bigger aspirations. However, despite his proximity to BJP chief Amit Shah, he is unlikely to have his way in the larger interest of the party which obviously feels threatened on account of Mayawati’s plans to fight it out in Phulpur - which could prove to be a springboard for not only her own but also her party’s rejuvenation.