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Can Mayawati groom good captains?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-07-2017 Shashi Shekhar

It happened in the Rajya Sabha last Tuesday. Deputy chairman P.J. Kurien had allowed Mayawati three minutes to speak on the issue of atrocities on Dalits. She needed more time but the deputy chairman disallowed her. A furious Mayawati walked out, saying: “How can I not be allowed to speak on issues about the section of society where I come from? If I cannot place the issue of Dalit atrocities before the Parliament, then I don’t have a moral right to continue in Parliament.”

The next day Kurien tried to persuade Mayawati to withdraw her resignation but to no avail. Her resignation was finally accepted. Perhaps she resigned on impulse or in a fit of anger, but as a seasoned politician the resignation will be seen as a well-thought-out strategy of smartly using the monsoon session of Parliament to her benefit.

A glance at Mayawati’s career graph will show that after initial setbacks she has rapidly risen up the ladder of success. She became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times. This is a record that she shares with giants such as Chandra Bhanu Gupta and Narayan Dutt Tiwari. During this period she very cleverly and successfully pushed both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress to the margins. Till May 2012, Uttar Pradesh’s political journey closely reflected that of Tamil Nadu. The fight for power was between Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP). This resembled the battle between J. Jayalalithaa or M. Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi upset the electoral equilibrium in Uttar Pradesh that had flourished since 1989 by fighting elections from the state. As a result, the BSP tally shrank to just 19 seats in the 2017 UP assembly elections. The sharp decline means the number of seats may not be enough for Mayawati to return to the Rajya Sabha. But who is responsible for this?

If the party’s success came because of Mayawati, she also has to take the responsibility for its failure. In 2007, after becoming chief minister for the fourth time, her advisers told Mayawati her life was in danger. Her security ring was tightened to such an extent that if you went to meet her, you had to pass through a security apparatus that was more elaborate than even the prime minister’s. It could be true that there is a danger to her life, but all this began alienating the Bahujan Samaj.

It wasn’t as if she wanted to ignore them. That is why Mayawati had formed a cadre-based party. It was the responsibility of party workers to help the common man’s voice reach middle-rung leaders and they in turn were supposed to relay these problems to the party’s top leadership. But this chain was broken. The reason? Most of the party’s electoral candidates were selected from the well-heeled. Dalits, minorities and backwards could not relate to these candidates despite being from the same caste. This gave the party’s critics an opportunity to allege that tickets were being sold in the BSP. This happened despite those levelling the allegations never furnishing evidence to back their claim. Earlier, Mayawati used to condemn dynastic politics. To achieve her mission, she did not even start a family of her own but over a period of time her brother’s interference in the party and governance started increasing. Now Mayawati’s nephew is spotted with her on political platforms. During this time grassroots leaders such as Nasimuddin Siddiqui, Babu Singh Kushwaha and Swami Prasad Maurya deserted her. Some of them levelled allegations that tarnished the party’s image.

To retain her lost clout, Mayawati has to shake off the image she has these days. The incidents in Saharanpur have given her this opportunity. After her resignation from the Rajya Sabha, Mayawati is now at the epicentre of Dalit politics. The BJP’s efforts to woo Dalits to its camp have received a setback. Meanwhile, with a proposal to send her to the Rajya Sabha, Lalu Prasad has indicated the emergence of a new polarization. Will the next few days see an anti-Modi alliance take shape? If such a thing happens, Mayawati will certainly play a central role.

An old saying in the army goes: There are two types of officers—loyal lieutenants and good captains. You need loyal lieutenants for a dictatorship and good captains to win a war. At one time Mayawati was Kanshi Ram’s good captain. But she groomed loyal lieutenants. Now Mayawati needs good captains. Will she be able to groom them?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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