Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are about nine months away but the Samajwadi Party, the BJP and the Congress have sounded the poll bugle. While the others are making loud noises, BSP's Mayawati, true to her style, is maintaining a low profile. She is silently and stealthily doing the ground work in order to strengthen her position in India's most populous state.
The BJP claims that the ruling SP is its main contender. However, political pundits in the national capital feel the Mayawati stands the brightest chance to defeat the Akhilesh Yadav government. Here is why:
1. Deteriorating law and order
Whenever the SP has come to power in UP, the first casualty has been law and order. Criminal elements, generally owing allegiance to Mulayam Singh Yadav's SP, rear their head and create lawlessness in the state. Even incidents of communal clashes rise during their rule. The government also fails to check corruption.
In contrast to it, Mayawati is known to be a tough leader. With her at the CM's chair, law and order problem is by and large under control as she cracks down lawlessness with an iron fist. Her only drawback is cases of corruption and wasteful expenditure of people's money on building parks and statues, especially her own. Still, she can always count on short-term benefits of a short public memory, and the voters, fed up with the anarchy and string of communal incidents under SP rule, long for her return to power.
2. BJP and Congress as non-viable options
Both the BJP and the Congress appear to be weaker parties when compared to the BSP. They have not yet projected any leader as their chief ministerial candidate. Any leader would have to match Mayawati's charisma. The BJP is attaching utmost importance to Uttar Pradesh.
It organised a public meeting in communally sensitive Saharanpur (western UP) to celebrate the achievements of Modi government's two years in power on May 26 this year.
It held its two-day National Executive in Allahabad (eastern UP) on June 12-13. However, the voters seem confused about the BJP's Hindutva agenda. This is off-putting for both - the core supporters and fence-sitters.
As far as the Congress is concerned, it remains the weakest party among the four main contenders. Hence, BSP appears the strongest alternative to the ruling SP.
3. Muslims deserting SP and Congress
The biggest minority community in the state, who constitute a decisive 19 per cent of Uttar Pradesh's population, have started gravitating towards the BSP by deserting the SP and the Congress.
Communal incidents in Muzaffarnagar and Dadri lynching have disillusioned the Muslims, who had voted for the SP in the 2012 Assembly elections with gusto. They do not feel secure under the Akhilesh Yadav rule and seem eager to switch sides to the BSP.
The cross-voting in the recent Rajya Sabha elections is a pointer towards that possible development.
The Congress suspended six of its MLAs for defying the party whip. Three of them are Muslims who are believed to have voted for the BSP candidates. Similarly, the SP suspended four MLAs, one of them being a Muslim.
|BSP supremo Mayawati is silently and stealthily strengthening her position in Uttar Pradesh.|
4. BSP's formidable caste equations
Mayawati is creating a 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 as the voting patterns of parliamentary and state elections differ. The state elections are fought on local issues and the BSP will have an edge over the BJP as far as Dalits are concerned.
Though Muslims and Dalits will make a formidable combination, Mayawati continues to woo the Brahmins who are 13 per cent of the state's population. "Brahmin shankh bajayega, hathi badhta jayega" is her most popular slogan for garnering the support of this crucial swing community. Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Mishra enjoys her backing. Recently, she expelled a Dalit core leader from the party for posting objectionable remarks against Brahmins on Facebook.
Mayawati has come a long way from the party's patently anti-upper caste slogans of 2002. Then, they were "Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar, Inko maaro jutey chaar" and "Jitni jinki sankhya bhari, Utni unki hissedari" (Bigger share in power for the numerically stronger). They changed in 2007 to the more pragmatic ones - "Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar, Inko pujo barambaar" and "Jitni jiski taiyyari, Utni uski hissedari" (Bigger share for the better prepared) respectively. This strategy will continue even in 2017.
The three - Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins - have the potential to defeat any other combination engineered either by the SP, BJP or the Congress. The same combination had ensured her victory in the 2007 Assembly elections. But she lost as the Muslims chose Mulayam over her.
5. BSP-Congress' post-poll ties
The BSP is seen to be moving closer to the Congress. It supported the Congress in Uttarakhand during Harish Rawat's trust vote and was instrumental in its win. It also supported the Congress candidates in Rajya Sabha polls in UP. In the long run, the BSP stands to gain. By supporting the Congress on the two crucial occasions, Mayawati has sent a message across the voters that in case of a hung Assembly in UP after elections, she can rely on the support of the Congress. This should be a comforting feeling for the voters who do not want their votes getting wasted.
No wonder then that the BJP has been trying to give minimum publicity to the BSP. Evaluating the emerging scenario, it has been touting the SP as its main rival. But will the voters buy this argument of the BJP?
It is doubtful.