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Published on: June 27, 2024, 7:40 p.m.
The fall and decline of Mayawati
  • Mayawati: losing her clout

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

Once seen as the Iron Lady of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati is now a pale shadow of her former self. Her Bahujan Samaj Party is becoming irrelevant in national politics. The plummeting fortunes of the BSP and its leader were evident in the results of the recent Lok Sabha election. The BSP’s vote share fell to 9.4 per cent – a nearly a 4-point drop from the 2022 assembly election – as even its loyal Jatav backers split their support between the three major political forces in the state. The BSP has failed to win a single seat in the state.

In contrast, the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance took recourse to coherent messaging, targeting the Modi government on issues related to protecting constitutional rights and freedoms and economic problems, while managing to stitch a new alliance that transcended the politics of narrow caste arithmetic reminiscent of the Mandal years. This helped it win 43 seats, boost its vote share and gain support from other backward classes (OBCs) and Dalits. These sections, along with the Muslim minorities, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the SP-Congress alliance.

Out of power since 2012, the party has remained an anodyne force, with its leader Mayawati abjuring agitational politics and largely limiting her political messaging and activism to statements and press releases. Her party has retreated into a cocoon, even as it has sought to be a spoiler in the Parliamentary elections by promoting a political messaging that relied on a false equivalence of the BJP and the SP-Congress.

After her defeat, Mayawati blamed rigged electronic voting machines, the weather and the lack of trust among Muslims, while still refusing to acknowledge her own lack of political enterprise that has resulted in the BSP’s decline.

Her attempt to prop up her nephew, Akash Anand, as her party's national co-ordinator, then sacking him in the middle of the Lok Sabha poll (on the ground that he was not ‘fully mature’) and recently rehabilitating him has sent out the signal of a leader not in control of her party or the political narrative.

The BSP, a party that began as a movement led by Kanshi Ram, reached its apogee in the late 2000s, after being part of a series of post-poll coalition governments before winning power on its own in a split polity in 2007. By this time, its ideology had also shifted from being a bahujan (a term connoting the subaltern) to that of a sarvjan party – a catch-all phrase for an alliance of contradictions – in order to win a broad-based vote.

In government, the BSP accorded dignity to the Dalit population in the state and engaged in a fervent politics of Dalit symbolism, but failed to seriously address socio-economic issues through steps such as redistribution or enlightened governance. However, her administration’s handling of the law and order situation in the state did earn her some admirers.

A death knell

But now Mayawati has serious reasons to be worried. The emergence of Chandra Shekhar Azad as the new Dalit leader in UP, following his resounding victory in Nagina in the just-concluded elections could be a death knell for Mayawati’s BSP. While Azad garnered over 51 per cent of votes, BSP’s Surendra Pal Singh barely topped 1 per cent in the particular constituency. The passing of the baton could not have been louder or clearer.

  • Out of power since 2012, BSP has remained an anodyne force, with its leader Mayawati abjuring agitational politics and largely limiting her political messaging and activism to statements and press releases

It reminded many of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in December 2019. Back then, most political leaders, including Mayawati, were shy of being seen with the protestors in Delhi and elsewhere. Not so Azad. Barely a couple of days after Imam Ahmed Bukhari of Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid had voiced support for the CAA, arguing it did not affect Indian Muslims, Azad showed up around the time of the Friday prayers at the mosque. 

Even as the imam peered from behind the window of his room at the mosque, Azad gave an impassioned call from the steps of the mosque and thousands of Muslims turned their back on the cleric and rallied behind him. It presented one of the most abiding images of the anti-CAA struggle. 

Azad’s win carries symbolic weight. In 1989, Mayawati had won the Bijnor constituency, which is now part of Nagina, post-2008 delimitation. Political analysts see Azad’s journey from Bhim Army chief to a rising political figure heading his own party, Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram), illustrates his growing influence among Dalits and minorities in the state and the simultaneous decline of Mayawati, once the Queen of Dalits. 

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