Lok Sabha Polls: How Mayawati Has Become A Major Opposition Face

The SP-BSP alliance is likely to inflict the biggest loss on the BJP in any state in the Lok Sabha elections.

4 min read
Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, left, and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav attend a joint press conference in Lucknow.

The announcement of an alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party on Saturday set in motion a number of important developments. First, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reacted to the alliance by taunting BSP supremo Mayawati and SP president Akhilesh Yadav by saying, "Those who were not ready to see eye to eye with each other are shaking hands for petty political gains". He also reminded Mayawati of when she was attacked by SP workers at a Lucknow guest-house in 1995.

Second, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that he has "tremendous respect for both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav".

Third, other Opposition leaders such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy welcomed the formation of the SP-BSP alliance.

Fourth, the Bhim Army, which many projected as a challenge to Mayawati from within the Dalit community, has announced its support for the SP-BSP alliance.

Fifth, RJD leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, Tejashwi Yadav met Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow on Monday. He touched Mayawati's feet and wished her in advance for her birthday which is on Tuesday. Several Opposition leaders are likely to take part in her birthday celebrations in Lucknow.

All these developments underline the emergence of Mayawati as a major Opposition face for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and a possible prime ministerial contender. And driving Mayawati's chances is the idea of giving India it's first Dalit prime minister.

But how did a leader of a party with zero Lok Sabha MPs reach this position?

Let's go back by a few years.

Down In The Dumps, Mayawati Changes Strategy

The period from 2012 to 2017 was perhaps the lowest ebb in what has been a remarkable political career for Mayawati. In 2014, the BSP failed to win a single seat in the Lok Sabha and in 2017, the party was reduced to a distant third in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Several top leaders left the party – Naseemuddin Siddiqui joined the Congress, Swami Prasad Maurya joined the BJP and Indrajeet Saroj went to the Samajwadi Party.

The BSP even lost a substantial chunk of its Dalit vote bank, with many non-Jatav Dalits moving to the BJP. The BSP's support among non-Jatav Dalits declined from 49 percent in 2012 to just 33 percent in 2014. The party's popularity declined among all communities except Jatavs.

From a possible prime ministerial contender, Mayawati stood on the cusp of being reduced to just a leader of Uttar Pradesh's Jatavs, her own community.

However, adversity made Mayawati change her tactics completely. She set aside her party's "no pre-poll alliance" policy and forged key alliances across the country. She joined hands with the Janata Dal (Secular) for the Karnataka Assembly elections last year and played a key role in the formation of the JD(S)-Congress alliance government in the state. In Chhattisgarh, she allied with the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh led by former state chief minister Ajit Jogi and is also likely to have a tie-up with the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana. All the three parties, as well as Akhilesh Yadav, have said that they support Mayawati as the next prime minister.

Mayawati’s PM Prospects

Of course, the real game-changer is the tie-up with arch-rivals SP in Uttar Pradesh or what is being called the bua-bhatija (aunt-nephew) alliance. The success of this alliance could be seen in the BJP's defeat in the Lok Sabha by-elections in Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Kairana last year.

According to most estimates, this could inflict the single biggest loss to the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections. If the alliance does manage to win over 40 seats, as many are predicting, it is likely to be the biggest anti-BJP bloc of seats in any state. If this happens, it would boost Mayawati's chances of becoming prime minister, if neither the BJP nor the Congress is in a position to form a government with its pre-poll allies. Even if they sweep their respective states, other regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, K Chandrashekar Rao, Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik are unlikely to get more seats than the SP-BSP combine.

What also works for Mayawati is that she is perhaps the only non-BJP, non-Congress leader with a pan-India following. The BSP's vote share across India has been consistently above 4 percent in every Lok Sabha election since 1996.

In the last two elections, 2009 and 2014, it has been the third largest party in terms of national vote share after the Congress and the BJP.

The Akhilesh Factor

However, Mayawati's prime ministerial prospects aren't just about the BSP. A key element is the support Mayawati is getting from Akhilesh Yadav.

The SP president has left no stone unturned to ensure that the BSP is comfortable in the alliance, even if it means ruffling a few feathers within his own party. For instance, even when BSP leader Bhim Rao Ambedkar lost the Rajya Sabha election to the BJP last year, Akhilesh Yadav got him elected to the Uttar Pradesh legislative council with the SP's support.

The alliance also wouldn't have been possible had Akhilesh Yadav not actively sidelined his uncle Shivpal Yadav and his supporters. Mayawati reportedly blames Shivpal Yadav and his supporters for the infamous attack on her at a Lucknow guest house in 1995 and says that since Akhilesh Yadav had nothing to do with it, she has nothing against him.

Therefore, the unsaid part of the alliance is Desh me Bua aur Pradesh me Bhatija – that is Mayawati is the alliance's face at the Centre while Akhilesh Yadav will be its face in Uttar Pradesh.

This is an important gamble for Akhilesh Yadav. If Mayawati becomes prime minister, he would emerge as the natural beneficiary in the state, especially as the BSP leader doesn't really have a second-in-line at the state level. It would also help him win the goodwill of the state's Dalits and take the SP beyond its traditional base of Yadavs and Muslims.

It is because of this factor and the idea of having India's first Dalit prime minister, many non-BJP parties could find it beneficial to support Mayawati for the country's top job.

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