Politics in Uttar Pradesh, which sees elections in the early summer of 2017, has perked up, particularly following the distasteful remarks made by Dayashankar Singh, the now-expelled state BJP vice-president, about Mayawati, the leader of the BSP. In the course of alleging that Mayawati was selling her party symbol to candidates – an old charge – Singh turned abusive. Given Mayawati’s Dalit identity, the issue became an embarrassment for the BJP.
Subsequently some of the moral high that the BSP had gained was lost by party leaders training their megaphones on Singh’s wife and daughter, who had nothing to do with the matter. While this indicates the loose tongues and misogynistic culture that runs through Uttar Pradesh politics, across parties, what does it suggest in hard political terms?
BJP’s Dayashankar Singh had compared BSP leader Mayawati to a prostitute, days after he was made the party’s UP Vice President
It is here that the story gets a little complicated. Uttar Pradesh is set for a fascinating election in a state where power has been won and lost in recent years by parties that have formed innovative and dynamic social coalitions. Indeed, it is possible to identify families, particularly in urban areas, that have voted for all four major parties in the past decade: the BJP (2014), the Congress (2009), the BSP (2007) and the SP (2012).
The controversy triggered by Singh’s remarks has consolidated Dalit voters (especially the Jatav community) behind the BSP. This is Mayawati’s bedrock. It gave her party a 20 per cent vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, even though the BSP won zero seats. In contrast, the BJP-led alliance won 73 seats of 80.
Assembly elections are a different battle. In recent times, the Congress (in 2009) and the BJP (2014) have done better in parliamentary elections in Uttar Pradesh than in state elections. The latter were won by the BSP in 2007 and the SP in 2012, with both parties getting absolute majorities in the 403-member assembly.
In 2017, the SP faces an uphill task. By common consensus, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has been outmanoeuvred by his “uncles”, a euphemism for the brothers, cousins and political associates of his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who, like Mulayam himself, remain active in politics and have undercut the chief minister. Further, in cities and towns, the sense that SP-backed criminal syndicates and favoured police officers are collaborating is working to the ruling party’s disadvantage.
In the normal course, Mayawati would be expected to capitalise on the anti-incumbency sentiment, present herself as chief ministerial candidate and the only regional alternative of consequence and win. This is what she did in 2007, when the BSP formed the first full-majority government in Uttar Pradesh since 1991. With luck, she could repeat that. Either way, however, conditions are different.
(To be continued)