BSP in firm control of Dalit vote; Mayawati set to play kingmaker across India as parties seek last piece of jigsaw

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati has silently become the most sought after political personality in the country. Almost every Opposition party is trying to woo her to forge an alliance with the BSP, in order to take a pie of the Dalit vote for upcoming Assembly elections in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, which would soon be followed by the  2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Such is the demand that the temperamental BSP supremo is spoilt for choice. While she has often repeated the argument that there can be an alliance only if the BSP is offered a "respectable number of seats", she has kept people guessing as to how much would be too much.

 BSP in firm control of Dalit vote; Mayawati set to play kingmaker across India as parties seek last piece of jigsaw

Sonia Gandhi with Mayawati during HD Kumaraswamy's swaring-in. PTI

It's an ideal scenario for Mayawati, who has long wanted to spread out of Uttar Pradesh and become a national party with a presence in several states rather than being a regional party restricted to Uttar Pradesh. This is why it fielded candidates in nearly all seats in states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand, and a restricted number of seats even in southern states like Karnataka and Kerala. And this is why — despite going it alone in these states and despite winning only a handful of seats — the BSP is still the third most successful party by voteshare, after only the BJP and Congress.

It's interesting to watch bigger regional parties, and even national parties, wooing Mayawati, as it consolidates her position as the de facto leader of Dalit voters. And it's the Dalit votes that every political party wants, for that will plug all squares in their jigsaw puzzle.

Think of Dalit leaders and only a couple of others — Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale — have made it to the national level. And even their parties — the Lok Janshakti Party and Republican Party of India — are largely restricted to their home states of Bihar and Maharashtra, respectively.

There is a huge void as far as Dalit political leadership is concerned, and it's here that Mayawati's charisma, coupled with her focus on 'Dalitification' of institutions, eye-catching memorials built to honour Dalit icons like Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and herself, and reaching out to rural Dalit voters through community-specific welfare schemes when she was in power in Uttar Pradesh play a huge role.

It won't be an exaggeration to say that Mayawati can potentially swing Dalit votes in any party's favour in states she wants (even in Paswan's Bihar and Athawale's Maharashtra), and has hence become suddenly very relevant.

Mayawati's currency has become so valuable because of the growing polarisation of Dalit voters. It's the only code in the electoral battle that even BJP's Chanakya, Amit Shah, hasn't been able to crack. Remember RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's famous remark during the previous Assembly election in Bihar, about "reviewing the reservation policies", which may have cost the BJP the Bihar polls?

Videos of people being lynched, stripped and beaten have gone viral on social media, and further widened the gap between Dalits and non-Dalits during the four years of the Narendra Modi government.

Despite trying hard, the BJP has not been able to mollify Dalit voters as voting patterns from the last few Assembly elections and bypolls suggest. Even making Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, the President of India, has only given the BJP a cosmetic advantage. The party hasn't been able to shed its Hindutva image. While this helps consolidate the upper caste, OBC and even some EBC votes under one umbrella, helping the BJP reap electoral successes, the fallout is that Dalit voters are disillusioned with the saffron party and shift loyalties to other parties.

The Dalits have traditionally been with the Congress, but have also drifted away from the latter in recent years, in favour of regional parties and leaders.

Presently, there isn't anybody tall enough to challenge Mayawati for the Dalit vote. There are some greenhorns like Jignesh Mevani in Gujarat who made a difference in last year's Assembly elections, but he's untested politically, and may yet prove to be a one-election wonder.

Mayawati is keeping the Congress guessing in Madhya Pradesh and the RJD guessing in Bihar as to whether she would be open to a pre-poll alliance. Even the Samajwadi Party isn't so sure of her assistance in Uttar Pradesh, though they tasted success as an alliance in the recent by-elections.

At the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru, the prolonged hand-holding and bonhomie shared by Mayawati and former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, with Rahul Gandhi paying his full attention, spoke volumes about the role played by the BSP in the national political spectrum.

And Mayawati, having perhaps realised her value, doesn't seem to be in a hurry. She is ready to wait for her turn, for things to swing in her favour before realising her long-cherished dream of going national. And that's what she is ultimately targeting.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2018 09:52:59 IST