The imponderables: Will Mayawati be UP's Jill-in-the-box?

Due to some degree of communal polarisation, Mayawati's chances have been written off. But her potential is probably being underestimated - especially since Muslims will be voting tactically this time to defeat the BJP

R Jagannathan April 17, 2014 07:42:06 IST
The imponderables: Will Mayawati be UP's Jill-in-the-box?

If Uttar Pradesh is the black box of this general election, Mayawati is the Jack in that box. Or rather Jill-in-the-box.

The fate of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats depend on four M’s – Modi, Mulayam, the Muslim and Mayawati. While everyone acknowledges the first three M’s, Mayawati tends to get underplayed.

The imponderables Will Mayawati be UPs Jillinthebox

BSP Supremo Mayawati. AFP

Not without reason. Thanks to the widely reported trend of communal polarisation, it is assumed that the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) will be the main beneficiaries from this. The high turnouts in the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh polls enthused both parties, with the BJP believing that it has got a lot of the Hindu vote and the SP the Muslim one. A Hindustan Times story quotes a BJP enthusiast as claiming the party could win seven of the 10 seats that went to the polls on 10 April.

However, in a four-horse races, it would be fatal to deny the importance of any one of the M’s. The fourth M – Mayawati – is thus an important piece of the UP electoral puzzle, and it is worth evaluating her gameplan and potential. She will impact how the Muslim vote actually plays out. If Muslims miffed with SP after Muzaffarnagar see her as a winner in some places, they will go with her.

The problem for the Muslim voter is that he (or she) knows who he has to vote against – Modi – but not who he has to vote for. His vote can play a tactical role in defeating Modi only if he picks the winning M among the other two major contenders – Mayawati or Mulayam.

This is not as simple as it sounds and needs a sound understanding of electoral arithmetic in each constituency.

The Muslim tactical vote, if it has to deliver results, is not about getting all Muslims to vote for one particular candidate, but about figuring out how the rest of the communities are voting, and then calculating which party has the better chance of winning against the BJP, before finally exhorting Muslims to vote for the strongest candidate who can defeat the BJP.

In places where two candidates look equally strong, the Muslim tactical vote fails. The BJP benefits whenever this happens.

In Pataliputra in Bihar, for example, where Lalu Prasad’s daughter Misa is fighting Ram Kirpal Yadav, a former Lalu confidant now with the BJP, Muslims cannot tilt the balance till they know which way the wind is blowing.  It is fairly clear that the Yadav vote may be split, and some of the other communities may be tilting towards JD(U) or BJP.

This is why Maulana Anisur Rahman of the Imarat Shariah, a Muslim institution focused on welfare and education, first tries to figure out how the other communities – Yadavs, Koeris, Kurmis, and Bhumihars are voting – and then whisper the details to Muslims to do their tactical voting.

A Hindustan Times report quotes Rahman as saying this: “"Of course, Muslims cannot decide the outcome an election on their own. In this seat, we are about a lakh and a half. I will start getting reports from villages by this evening and tomorrow about how different caste groups are voting. Are Yadavs pre-dominantly with Lalu or splitting three-ways? Where are Dalits voting?"

Similar problems abound in Uttar Pradesh, where too Muslims want to vote tactically and defeat the BJP.

This is where Mayawati is in with a chance because unlike the other parties, she knows where her Dalit base is strong – and Muslims can see the same and vote tactically wherever she is strong.

Sudha Pai, writing in The Indian Express, says that Mayawati plans to rope in Dalit (Jatav) votes, a few more sub-castes and Brahmins ignored by the BJP. The BJP has gone in for a middle and lower OBC consolidation in the hope that Brahmin votes have nowhere to go but to itself.  But the number of seats Mayawati will win depends on whether the Muslims are convinced by her coalition. Pai writes: “The changes in the pattern of the BSP’s ticket distribution in UP reflect these objectives: Dalits have been given 17 tickets, Brahmins and Muslims 40, Thakurs 8, while the number of tickets given to OBCs has declined to 15. Due to these and other steps, Jatavs in western UP, particularly in Mathura and Meerut, have taken the lead to declare support for Behenji.”

Mathura, where Hema Malini is fighting on a BJP ticket, and Meerut, are precisely where the BJP thinks it will win.

Mayawati’s hope is that if Muslims can see her as a winner in western UP and in some other parts like Purvanchal (eastern UP), they will vote tactically for her.

The opinion polls do not give her much of a chance. While the Lokniti-CSDS-CNN-IBN polls gives her only 18 percent of the popular vote (against the BJP’s 36 percent and SP’s 22 percent), the NDTV poll gives her 20 percent of the vote and only 10 seats (against the BJP’s 51 and SP’s 14).

In most opinion polls, the Mayawati vote has usually been less visible than that of the rest. If the Muslims are able to see this better than the SP and the BJP, she may fare better than the polls suggest. The Muslims certainly have one good reason to vote for her: her regime saw no riots, but SP has managed to set off scores of them, climaxing in Muzaffarnagar.

Mayawati’s BSP cannot be written off too easily.

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