Why Priyanka Gandhi needs to pull off a Mayawati to win UP

Much like Mayawati, Priyanka has to prove her mettle in realpolitik. The only way for that is for her to forge a real connection with the voters on ground-level and stop being a Delhi-based star campaigner.

 |  5-minute read |   29-01-2019
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The entry of Priyanka Gandhi into active politics wasn’t unexpected — although the timing just before the elections is surprising. What is even more interesting is that she has chosen eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) as her initial assignment, which pits her against both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

But in various commentaries by well-known journalists and political pundits, the entry of Priyanka is being explained as a counter to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati.

The entire comparison reeks of misogyny, where a woman can only be a counter to another woman but never to men — one wonders why it was not seen as a strategy to contain Akhilesh Yadav when the Samajwadi Party (SP) is a more powerful force on the ground today than the BSP? The comparison is also unfair because both Mayawati and Priyanka Gandhi have completely different trajectories, apart from belonging to different generations.

While Priyanka has yet to prove her mettle in realpolitik, Mayawati is a veteran of the game and commands support of a large section of the population. She enjoys a connection with the public which was forged by the fire of joint struggles in the early days of the BSP, a time when Mayawati would travel from village to village on a cycle, braving assaults and violence by casteist feudal goons.

maya1-copy_012919012526.jpgMayawati is a veteran of Indian politics and through her sheer grit, commands the support of large sections. (Photo: PTI)

One doesn’t create such powerful bonds with the people for nothing. One may agree or disagree with her politics and autocratic style, but no one can deny that Mayawati is one of the most powerful feminist icons of modern India, who has not only struggled outside but has also had to deal with a gender bias that exists within the BSP and has, over the years, ruled on her own terms.

Priyanka will have to get on the ground not just for campaigning but also in the real sense.

She will have to be amid the people.

Unlike the simplistic political analysis of Dalit votes, OBC votes, Muslim or Brahmin votes floating around, ground-level politics has grown far more complex than in the days of Indira Gandhi.

There is no unified Dalit or OBC vote bank — but the last two decades are characterised by the expression of the heterogeneity of Dalit and OBC aspiration, with all castes within these folds asserting themselves for a share in power. Similarly, the rise of Pasmanda politics has upset the cart of the Muslim polity where upper-caste Muslims acted as the dealers of the ‘Muslim vote bank’.

UP is one of those states where politicisation and political aspirations have percolated to all sections of society. Priyanka doesn’t have an easy road ahead of her. She has chosen to reclaim the old bastion of her family, but she would be at a loss if she were to believe in the tall claims about the restoration of the Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim electoral block of four decades ago.

priyanka-rahul-copy_012919012839.jpgPriyanka will have to get on the ground, not just for campaigning but also in the real sense. (Photo: PTI)

Also, she will have to battle the impression of the Congress being 'anti-Hindu' and a patron of left-wing anarchism. Hindutva is here to stay and much will depend on how Priyanka positions herself. As a Hindu leader like Indira? Or will she fall in the trap of the liberal and left-wing chatterati clubs like the Congress during the UPA days? Or will she repeat the mistake of Rahul Gandhi presenting himself as a ‘janeudhari Brahmin’?

The old model of Brahmin supremacy within the Congress party, with Dalits and other subaltern castes as clients, will not work today.

Unlike the old days, elections can no longer be won on the back of the upper-castes — something the BJP learnt the hard way in the Gorakhpur by-election.

People rejected the attempt of the BJP to impose a Brahmin face in a district where upper-caste votes are less than 20% while Nishads and Dalits alone constitute more than 40% of the population. Yogi Adityanath always won because he was seen as a ‘Hindu leader’. But here lies the major faultline in UP today. Under the Yogi government, all positions of power across administration, institutions and universities are reportedly going to either Thakurs or Brahmins.

There is a sense of impunity among local upper-caste elites — which has antagonised other sections of the population.

Strategies are apparently being deployed to do away with even the minimum guarantee provided by reservations, mostly via the judicial route. Even the cabinet is full of upper-caste ministers and there is no proportionate Dalit or OBC representation.

priyanka-maywati-cop_012919012904.jpgPriyanka Gandhi has a lot to learn from Mayawati. (Photo: DailyO)

This great disillusionment with power-sharing has effectively weakened the Hindu vote bank cultivated by Narendra Modi and the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly elections. Not only this, but the non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav castes are also rattled by the SP-BSP alliance, which may very well see them completely squeezed out.

Their disappointment with the BJP and their fear of the SP-BSP alliance means this section of the population is searching for a strong political alternative. And only a Hindu leadership seen above the caste divide can bring these varied castes together. The Congress has never been able to tap into this 35%-40% section of the population till date. For that, Priyanka will have to really do what Mayawati once did — go live among the people.

And not just be a Delhi-based star campaigner.

It is not about Priyanka vs Mayawati but about whether Priyanka can do what Mayawati did. This is what the democratic politics of today demands.

And if Priyanka were to do that, then UP will be hers for the taking in the coming years — and the road to Delhi will lie open before her.

Also Read: Can Priyanka Gandhi defeat Narendra Modi in Varanasi?


Abhinav Prakash Abhinav Prakash @abhina_prakash

Abhinav Prakash Singh, Assistant Professor at Delhi University and columnist.

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