The Growing Irrelevance Of Mayawati And Her Party

The Growing Irrelevance Of Mayawati And Her Party

For now, it seems the Dalit leader and her party are unable or disinclined to come out of the difficult spot they are in

A L I ChouguleUpdated: Wednesday, May 29, 2024, 07:54 PM IST
article-image
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati | ANI

Not long ago, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was a force to reckon with in Uttar Pradesh politics and its supremo, Mayawati, was an influential leader in both state and national politics. In a state where Dalits make up nearly 20% of the population, Mayawati symbolised Dalit empowerment and was hailed as an agent of change both when she was the chief minister — she was UP’s chief minister five times and completed her only full term in office when she won a simple majority in the assembly in 2007 — and after, as her strong presence in political sphere pushed social justice and Dalit assertion to the fore. But all this was before 2014.

Today, the fiery figure of Dalit politics and a champion of their rights is a pale shadow of her former self. Whether she has deliberately chosen to be silent and dysfunctional or has been forced to take a back seat is difficult to say, but it is certainly sad to see Mayawati down and out of the heat and dust of electoral politics. Ideally, the leader of a party with more than 20% vote share in a politically important state that sends 80 Lok Sabha MPs to parliament should have been at the forefront of forcefully mounting a challenge to BJP’s dominance in UP. But Mayawati has been unusually quiet through the ongoing election, preferring to fight the 2024 Lok Sabha poll alone instead of being an active part of the Opposition’s I.N.D.I.A bloc.

By choosing to go solo, Mayawati is not only expected to divide the Opposition vote, her party is also unlikely to get a good number of seats in a triangular contest, though BSP will have some impact on the results. This sounds strange because Mayawati’s party had won 20 Lok Sabha seats from UP with vote share of 27.5% in 2009. In 2004, BSP had won 19 seats from UP and its vote share was 24.6%. In 2014, during the Modi wave, BSP did not win a single seat but the party polled about 20% of the votes in UP. In the next general election, Mayawati fought the polls in an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP), and her party polled the same 20% votes and won 10 seats. Strangely, Mayawati refused to fight the ongoing polls in an alliance with SP and the Congress. Why?

Political circles have been abuzz with various stories, rumours, and speculations over Mayawati’s snub to the I.N.D.I.A bloc. The Congress, keen to have the BSP on board, did reach out to Mayawati to be part of the Opposition’s alliance. One rumour has it that Mayawati was even promised that she would be the prime ministerial face, while according another rumour, she demanded it as precondition to join the alliance. Ultimately, the alliance did not materialise because, according to reports, Mayawati made such outrageous demands for various seats that she seemed keen to undermine SP’s electoral prospects rather than helping the alliance to take on the BJP’s challenge in the crucial 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP that the BJP is heavily banking on to win parliamentary majority.

There must be a reason for Mayawati choosing to lie low. Apparently, according to media reports, Mayawati would rather be irrelevant than land up in jail. This is because she fears corruption cases against her being initiated or revived, in case she starts opposing the BJP forcefully. By choosing to fight the polls alone, she has made peace with the BJP, even if it costs BSP electorally and diminishes her politically. Her silence may be tactical to earn a reprieve from corruption cases, but her fading mass appeal and the unchecked decline of her party whose rise to power was once a striking symbol of empowerment of the most marginalised and underprivileged sections in UP, also underlines a larger story of Dalit aspirations being encompassed by or subsumed under other parties.

The sinking of the BSP means political space ceded to other parties. This is a result of being out of step with the changing polity over the past decade. There could be other factors contributing to the increasing irrelevance of Mayawati and her party. For instance, Mayawati’s inability to counter Modi and his party’s aggressive strategy to woo Dalits, especially the non-Jatav Dalits by combining Hindutva with welfare politics. This has also helped BJP make inroads into Mayawati’s core support base — Jatav Dalits. Besides, the functioning of the BSP on which Mayawati holds a tight control, the culture of inaccessibility cultivated by her and the absence of street level mobilisation in BSP have taken a toll on the party and its leader.

The BSP’s numbers over the years tell a story of its shrinking vote share and seats in both parliament and state assembly. While BSP performed well for almost three decades since the 1990s, its decline began with BJP’s stunning show in UP in 2014 when the saffron party swept the state with 71 seats, a monumental increase from the 10 seats it had won in the 2009 general election. The only saving grace for the BSP in 2014 was that its vote share: 20% despite winning nothing. To compound her problems, Mayawati’s party also performed very poorly in the subsequent 2017 assembly election which the BJP swept with a massive 312 seats; BSP won only 19 seats but had a vote share of 22%. At its peak in 2007, BSP’s vote share was 30%.

In 2022 UP assembly poll, the BSP won just one seat out of 403 and its vote share crashed to just over 12%. It is not difficult to infer that the BSP’s loss has been the BJP’s gain: nearly half of its vote share seems to have shifted to the Hindutva party, thanks to the BJP government’s welfare schemes, both state and Central. If fear of central agencies is one reason for Mayawati’s silence in the current election, BSP’s falling vote share and seats in successive elections since 2014 has quietened the fiery Dalit leader who once again will end up with a poor show in this election.

This is not to say that the BSP cannot be re-energised and Mayawati will not bounce back in state and national politics. But for now, it seems the Dalit leader and her party are unable or disinclined to come out of the difficult spot they are in. Certainly the 2024 Lok Sabha poll is a crucial test for Mayawati and her party’s future.

The writer is a senior independent Mumbai-based journalist. He tweets at @ali_chougule

RECENT STORIES

What India Can Learn From The Streets Of Bangkok And Beaches In Bali

What India Can Learn From The Streets Of Bangkok And Beaches In Bali

Neighbourhood Diplomacy: Dhaka, India’s Only Best Friend?

Neighbourhood Diplomacy: Dhaka, India’s Only Best Friend?

Editorial: More Debate Needed On Overcoming Caste Inequalities

Editorial: More Debate Needed On Overcoming Caste Inequalities

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?

What Is Keeping Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde So Busy?

What Is Keeping Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde So Busy?