Mayawati seems to be slowly countering the threat posed by the coalition between Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress by building her own social coalition. And it’s apparently working!
With dwindling fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and incessant infighting in the Yadav family, the Dalit-Muslim poll plank of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) almost seemed like winning formula until the last minute coalition of SP-Congress took some wind out of it. The alliance was a well thought out plan to stop the flow of Muslims to the BSP.
Political analysts are predicting that boosted by the support of the Muslim community, the alliance will fight it out with BJP. So much so, the BSP is being considered not even in the reckoning, much less in a close fight.
Where does that leave the BSP? Is the party really out of reckoning?
The BSP has been wooing the Muslim community for long. Either by distributing bigger pie of tickets or making overtures to the Muslim clerics for endorsement. But it has never been able to break the 25 per cent barrier of the community's support. To its dismay, the Muslim clerics have sided with either SP or Congress in the past.
A simple comparison of Mayawati’s riot-free rule and Akhilesh’s inept handling of riots (to some estimates around 400 riots of different intensity) would suggest Muslims are deserting SP.
Also, compared to other parties, Mayawati has allocated whopping 100 tickets to Muslim candidates — a well thought out strategy to get majority members of the Muslims who constitute 18 per cent of the vote bank along with its core Dalit votes.
Akhilesh image makeover came with a price.
Akhilesh’s makeover of a young man with only development in mind apparently came with a heavy price. The implication is that he would not be seen with Muslim clerics or Imams. Akhilesh consistently tried to break free from the image of his father had created. ‘Mulla Mulayam’ — they used to call him for his bonhomie with Muslims.
But Akhilesh has been a different man. As he continued to refuse meetings with the clerics or Muslim community leaders, the community slowly felt distanced.
At the same time, Mayawati through her trusted lieutenants was making overtures to woo Muslim leaders by promising justice to those arrested on false charges and crime-free regime beneficial for all.
But as Yadav family drama ended happily without any split in SP, there were worrying signs for BSP.
The BSP seems to have made a tactical shift in it’s positioning since the alliance was declared. In the last one week, the party managed to get a string of endorsements — some voluntary and some through deliberations.
For instance, Quami Ekta Dal of Mukhtar Ansar was inducted within days of the alliance. The BSP had to choose between carrying the baggage of inducting an erstwhile Don and losing tremendous support base of Ansar brothers in the Poorvanchal region. The BSP chose the former, thinking that presence of such criminal elements in the other parties will neutralise the impact. The Day Ansari brothers were inducted, he fired the first salvo at Akhilesh Yadav calling him an “anti-muslim”.
Muslim Clerics endorse Mayawati, overwhelmingly.
Ignoring overtures by BSP in 2014, Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid in the last minutes supported Congress but this time he announced his support for the BSP, proclaiming that Muslims remain safe under Mayawati regime.
After SP-Cong coalition was announced, BSP received a flurry of endorsement —most of them voluntary — perhaps signaling that its Muslim outreach program was bearing fruits.
On February 4, the All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), a body representing patrons-in-chief of dargahs, imams of masjids, mufti and teachers of madrassas announced their support to Mayawati. President of the board Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi announced that it will conduct meetings across the state and seek support from Muslims towards the BSP. His grudge — neglect of the community by Akhilesh.
On the same Day, Garib Nawaz foundation too threw its weight behind BSP for reasons very similar.
A week earlier on Jan 31, Muttaheda Milli Majlis had supported the BSP. Justifying why Muslims should support a party which has formed the government with BJP thrice, Mufti Ijaz Ashram Kazmi told that Mayawati has never compromised. She has always overpowered BJP despite getting its support, while Mulayam Singh came out of the grand alliance and put Yadav candidates to benefit BJP in Bihar. Recalling that SP too had also formed government in 1989 with BJP in UP, he alleged that Akhilesh has not given any space to Muslim demands in his manifesto, lest he alienate Hindu votes.
Thus far, not a single major Muslim clerics' organisation has supported SP. Apparently, they are coalescing behind Mayawati this time.
Most clerics have three issues with Akhilesh that could prove costly.
One, rebuff to Muslim clerics and his scant respect to even discuss the community’s issues. Second, non-fulfillment of the promise of giving 18 per cent reservation to minorities and thirdly, his inability to control BJP and riots and, thereby, ensure the safety and security of minority community.
Dalit Muslims flocking BSP rallies in huge numbers seems to have changed the equation and put the party back in the reckoning
Mayawati’s no-nonsense image, being a strong administrator and a person best suited to control BJP and maintain harmony could prove decisive.
Endorsement from clerics and Imams doesn't always mean 100 per cent support from the community. However, the way all organisations are endorsing BSP could dramatically increase the percent of Muslims voting for the party. This trend is also evident from views demonstrated by the ordinary Muslims in the rallies of the BSP in western UP.
Mayawati seems to have reciprocated unilateral support by Muslim clerics. In her last rallies —including the one - lakh -strong rally at Agra — Mayawati spoke of BJP’s meddling of personal matters of Muslims like Tripple Talaq and putting innocents in jail.
BSP is also be boosted by the fact that polls start from its bastion of western UP where the party has fielded 50 Muslim candidates —i.e. one-third of the total 149 seats in the region. A great performance in the region would definitely open up the entire election.
If the cleric's endorsement wasn't enough, On 7 Feb, Akhil Bharatiya Brahman Mahasangh also endorsed Mayawati calling BSP a party that gives Brahmins “most respect”. Brahmins who form 10 per cent of the population are crucial in UP.
Both the BJP and Akhilesh Yadav have an advantage of media coverage, which Mayawati doesn’t. Moreover, she doesn't have any alliance with other parties. And that’s precisely why it is making social alliance coalition at ground level. Away from mainstream media’s limelight, Dalit Muslims flocking BSP rallies in huge numbers seems to have changed the equation and put the party back in the reckoning —contrary to what analysts are stating. Mammoth whirlwind rallies of Mayawati are already indicating that BSP isn’t underdog.
After one-Day Matches of Punjab and Goa are over, we are in for a big Test match of UP elections. The BSP is hoping that a great start in western UP will give it a much-needed boost for the rest of the six phases.