On the backfoot for the last few weeks due to desertions of senior leaders of her party, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati gets a new lease of life in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, thanks to the BJP. Be it the brutal attack on Dalits in BJP-ruled Gujarat or the unpardonable remarks made by the vice-president of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit against Mayawati, these incidents promise to turn the BSP’s fortunes in India’s most populous state.
Conversely, these two recent developments also threaten to damage the BJP in a large way in both these states.
"Even a prostitute fulfils her commitment to a man after she is paid. But Mayawati, such a big leader in UP, sells party tickets to anyone who pays her the highest amount. If someone gives her Rs one crore for a ticket, she will give it to the other person who is offering Rs two crore," Dayashankar Singh, who was UP BJP's vice-president till July 20, was quoted as saying. This uncouth so-called leader had the audacity and shamelessness to repeatedly use the word "veshya" (meaning prostitute in Hindi).
Can any comment be worse than this for any woman? With leaders like Singh, the BJP should not hope to perform any better than the previous Assembly election in UP. The insalubrious remarks are enough to put off not just the Dalits in UP but also women and all people, including men who are sympathetic to issues such as gender equality and dignity of women.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah had to pay a heavy price for making some controversial statements such as the one on DNA of Biharis before the Assembly elections in Bihar.
Taking advantage of the situation, the Opposition tried to put the BJP in the corner. The outrageous comment was unanimously slammed by it in Parliament on July 20. They accused the BJP of being both anti-women and anti-Dalit.
“The country will not forgive the BJP for the statement. The BJP has the audacity to make such a comment even as Dalits are protesting in Gujarat over the atrocities… I am referred to as behenji (sister) all over the country... I preferred not to marry and remain a single woman because I wanted to serve the country and its underprivileged people,” a hurt but furious Mayawati said. She spoke at the end of a number of angry Rajya Sabha members condemning the statement.
The BJP could gauge the potential of the damage the remarks posed. Hence, it swung into action. Firstly, none other than leader of the Upper House and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley apologising to the members. “I am personally hurt that a BJP party person used such derogatory words against Mayawati. I should tell Mayawati ji that the party shares her grief over this issue… I will look into this matter. We stand with her,” he said.
Secondly, the party took the strictest action possible by expelling Singh from the party. This was done to send a clear cut message to one and all that the party did not in any way support the sexist and casteist remark. The UP government also registered an FIR against the controversial leader under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, as Mayawati belongs to Scheduled Caste (SC) category.
|BSP chief Mayawati will again surge ahead in the run up to the 2017 UP Assembly polls.|
Singh too expressed “regret” for his remark against Mayawati and her followers, and said he was “ready” to go to jail “if Mayawati wants so”. This “regret” will hardly cut ice with anyone. The damage has already been done.
The BJP was already struggling from an anti-Dalit image which stuck to it due to the suicide of Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula in January 2016. Former Union HRD minister Smriti Irani was blamed for the “mishandling” of the case and allowing it to drift.
To make amends, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shifted Irani from HRD to textiles ministry and even dropped her from the significant Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs.
But this exercise has turned back the clock and BJP stands accused as an anti-Dalit party.
On the other hand, Mayawati was down, though not out after senior BSP leaders such as former general secretary Swami Prasad Maurya and one of the founding members RK Chaudhary deserted her. They made the same allegation as Singh - that of selling party tickets - but without the abuses. While Maurya alleged that tickets were not only on sale in the party, but they are being auctioned. Chaudhary accused Mayawati of running the BSP as her “private real estate company”.
These desertions did damage Mayawati’s image and her chances of returning to power. However, the latest controversy arising out of the BJP leader has injected new life into the BSP.
In fact, the BJP-ruled Gujarat had already been providing fodder to Mayawati. It is witnessing widespread protests following beating up of seven Dalit youths for skinning a dead cow on July 11 at Una of Gir Somnath district. About two dozen members of the Dalit community attempted suicide in Saurashtra as a form of protest.
It has made Gujarat chief minister Aanandiben Patel’s position untenable who is already being blamed for mishandling Hardik Patel’s agitation for quota to Patidars. On the other hand, Mayawati is all set to strengthen her formidable combination of Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins.
Dalits, who constitute about 20 per cent of UP's population, have been Mayawati's strongest supporters. Though a large section of this vote bank had deserted her to vote for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they are likely to return to the BSP fold in the Assembly elections after Vemula’s suicide, Dalit agitation in Gujarat and abominable behaviour of the BJP leader in UP.