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Where is Mayawati? BSP leader’s absence from UP poll campaign sparks speculation

The four-time chief minister has been limiting her public presence largely to Twitter, sparking speculation that she fears being prosecuted for 'corruption' during her rule and is trying to stay in the BJP’s good books.

January 06, 2022 / 04:58 PM IST
BSP chief and four-time UP Chief Minister Mayawati (FIle Picture)

BSP chief and four-time UP Chief Minister Mayawati (FIle Picture)

Addressing a public meeting in Moradabad, western Uttar Pradesh, on December 30, Union Home Minister Amit Shah wondered why Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati was yet to begin her poll campaign.

“Behenji chunav aa gaye hain, thoda baahar nikaliye. Baad mein ye na kehna maine prachaar nahin kiya tha (Sister, elections have come, please come out for a bit. Don’t say later that you did not campaign),” Shah said, addressing the four-term chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is popularly known as ‘Behenji’.

READ: 'Will contest Uttar Pradesh assembly election,' confirms Yogi Adityanath

The other main parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Congress, have deployed their leaders to campaign for the upcoming election to the 403-member UP state assembly, due to take place between February and March.

Shah is not the only leader to question Mayawati’s absence from the poll battleground. “I cannot understand why Mayawati is so silent,” Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said while addressing the media in Delhi on December 23.

While the BSP chief is yet to step out, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath have been on a spree laying foundation stone and inaugurating infrastructure projects in the poll-bound state. Union ministers, including Amit Shah, Dharmendra Pradhan and Anurag Thakur, apart from  BJP president JP Nadda, have been spending considerable time in UP, strategising and holding public rallies.

Also, read: All political parties want UP polls be held as per schedule ensuring COVID-19 protocol: CEC Sushil Chandra

Former chief minister and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has been busy holding public meetings since he launched his ‘Vijay Rath Yatra’ from Ghazipur on November 17. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, too, has been consistently active of late in state politics.

Not the first time

This is not the first time Mayawati’s political inaction has become a talking point in Uttar Pradesh. On October 6, 2020, members of the Jatav Mahapanchayat torched Mayawati’s effigy in Agra because they were unhappy over her ‘silence’ on the alleged gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in a village in Hathras.

“BSP’s mission to speak for Dalits ended with the death of (its founder) Kanshi Ram,” said Ramvir Singh Kardam, president of the Jatav Mahapanchayat. Kanshi Ram, who founded the BSP in 1984 and then ceded the leadership to his protégé Mayawati, died in 2006.

The Hathras case, which sparked protests across the country, saw political leaders, including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, visiting the victim’s family amid a faceoff with the UP Police. But, Mayawati, who positions herself as “Dalit ki beti” (daughter of a Dalit), was conspicuous by her absence in Hathras. Instead, all that the 65-year-old leader did was put out a few tweets demanding action and targeting her rivals.

Some who have observed Mayawati’s politics over the years say her ‘silence’ is not surprising. “It is not easy to determine what's on her (Mayawati) mind,” Badri Narayan, political scientist and professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, had told Moneycontrol earlier.

Earlier, too, the BSP chief has faced criticism for not stepping out of her ‘ivory tower’ as UP chief minister, as Opposition leader or as president of her party. She was not seen on the ground in the protests after the rape and murder of two Dalit girls in Badaun in 2014 when her party was in Opposition in Uttar Pradesh and the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav was chief minister.

Also, read: Partnership of political dynasties crushed UP's aspirations, says PM Modi at Purvanchal Expressway inauguration

The last time Mayawati was seen on the ground was in October at an event in Lucknow to commemorate Kanshi Ram’s death anniversary.

The rise and fall of BSP

The Mayawati-led BSP came to power with a majority in the 2007 assembly election, winning 206 of the 403 seats. Five years later, the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP defeated her by winning 224 seats. The BSP’s seat count was reduced to 80. In the 2017 assembly election, when the BJP stormed to power by winning 312 seats, the BSP was reduced to 19 seats.

This time, the party faces many challenges, apart from defections. “The party has gone through a difficult time with most legislators quitting the party or being suspended and joining other parties.” said a BSP leader, who did not want to be named.

Some BSP leaders, however, said that Mayawati is likely to begin her campaign in the coming days, after the poll dates are announced. Her presence, so far, has been limited to customary appearances at press conferences and through tweets.

Also, read: In photos: PM Modi pays tribute to freedom fighters, prays at temple in Meerut

On December 23, when Mayawati was asked in Lucknow why she was yet to start the BSP’s poll campaign, she responded by saying that her rivals have gone overboard with public rallies because they were "anxious". In her address to supporters on January 2, she cited the party’s financial constraints for staying away from the ground.

“Unlike other parties, our party is not a party of capitalists and dhannaseths. And even if we imitate the others, the scarcity of funds could hurt the party during the election,” she said.

She also responded to Shah’s remarks saying: “The money of the poor with the government exchequer is keeping the BJP leaders warm.”

There are murmurs that the former CM prefers to remain indoors because she is allergic to dust, a rumour that also did the rounds in political circles when she was UP chief minister until 2012. Another rumour has it that a skin specialist had advised her to stay away from the sun. At times her fear of being assassinated was also cited as a reason for her rare public appearances.

Cosying up to BJP

Another reason attributed to her absence is to save herself from prosecution in corruption and disproportionate assets cases. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, without naming the BSP chief, called her “an undeclared BJP spokesperson” in 2020. That year, Mayawati backed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre on the border standoff with China in the Galwan area in eastern Ladakh, and on other issues.

Mayawati’s close aide and Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Mishra has rebutted these reports. Mishra has said in different interviews that Mayawati was working 18 hours a day, monitoring poll preparedness finalising candidates for the upcoming polls.

Wary of the void created by the absence of the BSP on the ground, the BJP and the SP have, however, been trying to woo the 22 percent Dalit population, considered the vote base of the BSP. While the BJP has been reaching out to Dalit voters since the runup to the 2014 general elections, the SP has started wooing the vote bank this time around to improve its chances.

Also, read: Congress’ uphill task in UP: Finding 160 women candidates with a shot at winning

Addressing a public rally in Unnao, near Lucknow, on December 28, Akhilesh Yadav exhorted the Samajwadis and Ambedkarwadis to come together to “throw away” the government in UP. The term Samajwadis refers to followers of the SP, while Dalits are referred to as Ambedkarwadis for they are avid followers of BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution.

Gulam Jeelani
Gulam Jeelani is a journalist with over 12 years of reporting experience. Based in New Delhi, he covers politics and governance for Moneycontrol.