BSP chief Mayawati may emerge as combined Opposition’s PM face

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has managed to emerge as a probable opposition candidate pushing other regional leaders like West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Telangana chief minister Chandrasekhar Rao behind for the post of prime minister. At this moment, only Congress president Rahul Gandhi seems to be ahead of Mayawati in the race. BSP has lost the past three elections — 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 assembly polls. In 2014 polls, the elephant, BSP’s election symbol, even failed to open its account and in 2017 UP elections, BSP’s tally dipped to a meagre 19 seats.

However, Mayawati’s decision to ally with her once arch rival Samajwadi Party led by former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections to defeat the BJP has been successful, as of now, to boost her political image. It is an open secret that the BSP supremo has always desired to become the prime minister. The results of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly polls held in the last leg of 2018 have dented BJP’s juggernaut image. Although Congress has managed to revive itself it is still very far away to muster the required 272 seats in the Lok Sabha on its own. In the present scenario, it is difficult for the Congress to win even 100 seats.

Mayawati’s calculation is BJP will lose the elections but the Congress will not cross the 100mark. The BSP-SP alliance, which according to Mayawati would register a thumping victory in Uttar Pradesh, would make BSP the third largest party in the Lok Sabha. BSP has already state level alliances with INLD in Haryana, JDS in Karnataka, Janata Chhattisgarh Congress in Chhattisgarh and is looking for alliances in other states, too. BSP contesting alone has won 6 and 2 seats in the recent Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections respectively. The results underline that BSP still has a presence in the Hindi belt and will play a significant role in deciding the fate of candidates in many seats. And this situation has revived Mayawati’s hopes of becoming prime minister.

Party supporters and leaders have already started to pitch her as the probable prime minister. Akhilesh Yadav, who was seen with Rahul Gandhi during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, is now hesitating to speak about the credibility of the Congress president. However, the same Akhilesh Yadav in the press conference along with Mayawati said that the next prime minister should be from Uttar Pradesh, clearly indicating Mayawati without mentioning her name. Also, RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav visiting Mayawati on her birthday assumes much significance.

In Bihar, Congress itself is a partner in the grand alliance led by RJD. Already, Mayawati took Akhilesh Yadav on board to snub Congress in Uttar Pradesh by leaving only the two traditional seats — Amethi and Raebareli — for the grand old party. Tejaswi Yadav has earlier supported Rahul Gandhi for the PM post. But Tejaswi moving closer to Mayawati should definitely worry the Congress. The grand alliance in Bihar led by RJD has already swelled with many parties like Congress, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), Vikassheel Insaan Party led by Mukesh Sahni, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha, Sharad Yadav’s Lok Janatantrik Dal, Samajwadi Party, CPI, CPI(M), and CPI(ML). So, seat sharing among the partners of the alliance will not be easy.

However, Congress seems to be more worried because there is a high probability that RJD will cut Congress’ share to accommodate the other parties. Bihar has around 4-5 per cent Jatav Dalit, the core vote bank of Mayawati, and RJD may even allot a seat to BSP in Bihar. The worst fear of Congress is that Mayawati may influence Tejaswi to reduce the party’s seat share in the grand alliance to around 5-6 only. The grand old party contesting less number of seats will only assist Mayawati in the post-poll scenario if the non-BJP parties have the larger share of seats in the Lok Sabha.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been trying all political cards to become the next prime minister. However, opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar and CPM’s Sitaram Yechury have avoided supporting Rahul as the main opposition face. It is due to Rahul Gandhi’s relative lack of experience that the other opposition leaders are hesitating to fight against the BJP under his leadership. And with Mayawati’s name emerging as the probable opposition face, she may be able to garner the support from the other opposition leaders. Already, Sharad Pawar has labelled Mayawati as a formidable opposition leader. The present developments if continued may see Mayawati even emerge as the main opposition face against the BJP and this is not a good news for Rahul Gandhi.

Not only for Congress, Mayawati’s rise should also cause alarm to BJP because it will spoil the saffron party’s agenda to pitch Rahul Gandhi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mayawati is a shrewd political leader having the support of majority of the Dalits, who account for 16 per cent of the country’s population. So, if Mayawati becomes the face of the Opposition, BJP will definitely find it tough to battle against the BSP supremo because her candidature has the capability to blight BJP’s efforts to win over Dalits.

In crucial Uttar Pradesh, where BJP is battling hard to retain the 71 seats it won in 2014 general elections, the saffron party may lose the chunk of Dalit votes — specially the non-Jatav Dalits — who had supported the party in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections. Non-Jatav Dalits account for 7 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s population. In conclusion, it can be said that Mayawati, whose many political obituaries have been written after BSP’s debacle in 2017 state polls, has managed to send alarming signals ahead of 2019 elections to both the major national parties — BJP and the Congress.

Sagarneel Sinha  is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.

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