Aditya Sinha: Is Mayawati BJP's next Mehbooba?
Mayawati (left) has twice before allied with the BJP, but if she does so again, she might end up in a difficult position like Mehbooba Mufti (right), who joined hands with the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir
Thanks to some good ground reporting, a picture is emerging in the election to Uttar Pradesh’s Assembly. The stakes are high not just for who will administer the famously ungovernable state, but for helping determine who will be the next President of India in July, and also in helping BJP president Amit Shah, if his party is successful in forming government, in his strategy for the re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hence the election is being fought like a war —Punjab is over and in any case the anti-incumbency there was so high that all the BJP cadre could do was help the Congress cash in on the anti-incumbency against the BJP’s senior state partner Akali Dal. Both Shah and Modi would any day prefer Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to remain their chief opponent than the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal.
The alliance between UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rahul has apparently energised Muslim voters, who form 19.5 per cent of the electorate. Though ex-CM and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) boss Mayawati made an all-out bid for this bloc - together with her Dalit voters who form about 20 per cent of the electorate, she could potentially have a winning vote of about 40 per cent in a multi-cornered contest - by fielding 97 Muslim candidates, some of whom have a young, modern outlook and some are pillars of the conservative community, the reports indicate that the election is not quite in the bag. This is despite the fact that during her CM stints she kept the peace; whereas in 2013, UP was marked by utterly polarising violence in Muzaffarnagar that helped Shah and Modi scoop up 71 UP parliamentary seats in 2014. The magazine Caravan says that Muslims don’t fully trust her as she has twice before allied with the BJP to form government; they don’t trust a woman; and Mayawati has no emotional connect to potential voters.
Nonetheless, the pre-poll surveys predict a hung UP assembly in this election. They suggest that the SP-Congress alliance will emerge as the single largest party, followed by the BJP which is unable to fully cash in on last year’s surgical strike across the Line of Control in Kashmir, as well as on the demonetisation disruption. The BSP is predicted by most surveys to limp across the finish line at a distant third, perhaps not even touching the three-digit mark. (Jat anger in Western UP at the BJP is said to be a boon for RLD chief Ajit Singh who has historically joined hands with the highest bidder.)
With these predicted numbers, the expectation in Delhi circles is that there will ultimately be a post-poll coalition of the BSP and the BJP. It is said that Mayawati will be the BJP’s next Mehbooba Mufti: a reference to the Jammu and Kashmir CM who has lost all voter goodwill simply for allying with the BJP. In Kashmir, the BJP is seen not just as an Indian party, but a sinister one that ultimately aims to change the demography of the Muslim-majority Valley. The alliance might have been justified if it had delivered on governance, but the neglect after the devastating 2014 flood remains a bitter memory; even worse was last summer’s street violence marked by hundreds of youth killed or maimed by gun-pellets.
Mehbooba is now seen as someone who would compromise for power, and the trojan horse for the first time that the BJP has been in government in J&K. It is difficult to see Mehbooba winning another election in the forseeable future. Similarly, if Mayawati were to form government with BJP help, it would be difficult to see her winning Muslim votes again in the forseeable future (though the future is always wildly unpredictable).
Perhaps Mayawati will be compelled to be the next Mehbooba. If she ends up in third place it will be difficult to hold her flock together -unless she lets them enjoy the fruits of power. This will annoy all those who were angered last year by the BJP’s handing of post-graduate student Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad, or by the anti-Dalit violence in Una, Gujarat. Like Mehbooba, Mayawati will be in a difficult position to politically explain her decision.
Arriving at such a decision has probably been in the works for some time now, if Amit Shah’s methods are any guide. The BJP boss is Machiavellian and no doubt has a few cards up his sleeve to entice Mayawati to his side. If she becomes CM then five years is a long way away. In a state that is notoriously difficult to govern, anti-incumbency is inevitable at the end of her tenure. We can only wait till March 11 to know whether or not Mayawati will be the BJP’s next Mehbooba.
Aditya Sinha’s crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to email@example.com