Last week’s trust vote was supposedly about the Indo-US Nuclear deal but it soon became a matter of political upmanship. At the centre of opposition this time stood the lone figure of Mayawati, the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. With only 17 Members of Parliament in her kitty, she was touted as the kingmaker who could help topple the Government.
Smaller regional parties and their satraps rushed to her side to give the failed Third Front another chance. TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu went to the extent of touting her as the possible Prime Minister. Mayawati on her part did her best to poach Samajwadi rebel MPs and did succeed in weaning away General Secretary Shahid Siddiqui, one of the most public faces of the party. However, contrary to speculations, no other SP leader joined the ranks with her. So the question now is, can she upstage her rivals and lead a third front revival with the backing of the Left in the next general elections?
Before giving in to conjectures, let us go over and assess where and how she has managed to capture the imagination of the masses. Being a Dalit has never been easy in a caste ridden society such as India, but the story of Mayawati’s rise has been exceptional to say the least. Born in a poor family of a clerk, she did her B. Ed and began her career as a teacher. The turning point came when she became Kanshi Ram’s bete noire when he founded the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984. Her first Lok Sabha win came in 1989 from Bijnore and since then she has been a member of the Rajya Sabha and the Chief Minister on three short lived occasions earlier. It was in the 2007 UP Assembly elections that BSP won a majority for the first time in the state. In the earlier days, the BSP remained largely a Dalit supported party but with time Mayawati realized that she needed the support of other castes too if she needed to expand her base. By giving tickets to the higher castes and appointing them in key positions, she managed to pocket a sizeable vote bank of parties like the BJP and the Congress. However, it is not only political acumen behind her success. The demographic structure of India is such that people vote primarily and heavily in favor of their caste. For the Dalits she is their Messiah, one of their own who has carved a niche for herself, and is their ticket out of the rut they have been stuck into because of their caste. Along with the Dalits, her popularity is high among the other backward castes too as they too find it easy to associate themselves with her.
Mayawati, who is derogatorally referred to as Behenji, is regularly derided and ridiculed for her shrill, high pitch tone and satin suits, they actually reflect the sharp outcry against the system which had enslaved her and her community since time immemorial. It is unfair to separate her and judge her by our warped standards.
However she too has fallen in line with other politicians about amassing wealth and degenerated with the times.
As for whether she can or is even eligible for becoming the Prime Minister, let us not conjecture much as Indian politics is even more erratic than the weather. Logically, she still seems far away from the coveted post as the BSP still does not have a pan Indian presence and other Third Front parties are too fickle to stick by her always. With loyalties changing every minute she still seems far away but one never knows with Mayawati and that is where her enigma lies!