India’s politically crucial state Uttar Pradesh is now virtually up for grabs. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s charm that lured voters who gave power to the party in the state in 2017 seems to be fast fading among the electorate. Its debacle in the recent byelections in Kairana and Noorpur point to the stark reality.
Amid the BJP’s gloomy scenario in the Hindi hinterland, will Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, backed by former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, bring a turnaround in the state politics? Does Modi’s seemingly waning magic herald Mayawati’s magic in the state?
These questions have been hovering in the political circuit ever since the BJP’s fall in the recent byelections not only in Kairana and Noorpur, but also in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.
Not only the BSP and the Samajwadi Party but also the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) joined hands amid common compulsions brought by the powerlessness and unimaginable marginalisation of all the three parties with the rise of Modi at the Centre followed by that of Yogi Adityanath in UP. The forces thus dumped in the cold realised the need to bury the hatchet and come to terms with each other to close ranks. BSP chief Mayawati was the first to make a move towards this seemingly impossible task.
The BSP does not generally contest byelections. So, Mayawati decided to back SP candidates in Gorakhpur and Phulpur against the BJP nominees in the polls held for the two Lok Sabha seats in March this year. And the result turned out to be unexpectedly good for the SP-BSP combine.
SP leader Akhilesh Yadav was gratified and even felt humbled by the support offered by the BSP in the two constituencies. He promised to return the favour by supporting BSP candidate for the Rajya Sabha. But owing to cross-voting, Mayawati’s candidate could not reach the Upper House of Parliament. She blamed the BJP for the loss and the SP-BSP ties were not breached because of the setback.
Both the parties had their eyes upon not only the future byelections in Kairana and Noorpur Assembly seats but also the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But before that the RLD led by Chaudhary Ajit Singh stepped in. He offered his party’s symbol and ticket to SP candidate Tabbasum Hasan from Kairana. This move was meant to repair a deep communal divide created between Muslims and Jats by riots in nearby Muzaffarnagar in the year 2013. Her victory points to the return of Jats to the RLD fold and it shows a fatigue against communal fault lines and flare ups that afflict the Hindi belt, often benefitting the BJP in polls.
Fighting rampant communal polarisation is, indeed, becoming the main agenda of the Opposition parties in UP though it is also moving beyond the confines of the state and Mayawati and her party are at the forefront of it. Before the Karnataka Assembly elections held last month she tied up with former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal-Secular party.
Although the move brought her only one Assembly seat in the Southern state out of the 20 that the BSP contested, she was able to set the tone for the battle because of which Deve Gowda’s son HD Kumaraswamy became Chief Minister through an alliance with the Congress party.
Mayawati has also announced an alliance with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by Omprakash Chauthala in Haryana though there are no byelections here in the near future. But the understanding between the BSP and the INLD is meant to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls together and pose a challenge to the ruling BJP in the state as well as the Congress that is facing great intra-party fight.
Behind the confidence that Mayawati exudes while making her thus far highly promising political moves is what is said to be the excellent chemistry that she enjoys with Akhilesh Yadav though there is a generational gap between them. He calls her Bua, or dear aunt, because of her being a contemporary of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Although Mulayam and Mayawati fell out long ago, the ties between the parties have been resumed, renewed and refurbished with the ascent of Akhilesh to the party leadership. In fact, both Mayawati and Akhilesh share a great camaraderie that the latter while on a recent weekend visit to Mainpuri tried to allay her fears about seat sharing in the general elections, saying that he won’t mind agreeing to her viewpoint vis-à-vis seats to be shared in the times to come.
Such staunch ties warming up between the parties in recent months have not only rattled the BJP, sending the party chief Amit Shah to a flurry of meetings with the NDA allies like the Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal and others, but also made Congress president Rahul Gandhi to meet Opposition leaders at a Roza Iftar, or
Ramzan fast-break get-together. This is slated to be held in a day or two where besides the usual conviviality there is going to be quite a bit of food for thought for the invitees and the participants.