September 22, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Mayawati is still relevant in the heartland’s politics. We also look at the curbs on student politics in Gujarat, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is Mayawati still relevant in the heartland’s politics?
In electoral politics in India, alliances can make or break political fortunes. With the emergence of the new INDIA coalition, time is running out for those who want to jump on that train to take on the BJP in the run-up to the 2024 elections. One person who’s watched all this from afar is Mayawati, a veteran of the Indian electoral landscape.
Some of Mayawati’s recent decisions have raised eyebrows. She and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have decided to not join any coalition ahead of the 2024 polls. She asked her party cadre to not participate in the recent byelection for the Ghosi assembly seat. This has some wondering if Mayawati’s political capital is on the decline. Does she and the BSP still hold some relevance in the heartland?
Mayawati was once hailed as one of the most important women in Indian politics and a stalwart of Dalit leadership. Her beginnings were a lot more humble. She was born in a Gautam Buddh Nagar village and completed her law degree from Delhi University. Her career began by teaching in Delhi.
Meeting Kanshi Ram changed things, and she became involved in his organisation, the All-India Backward Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF). Ram then founded the BSP in 1984, just seven years after the BAMCEF was set up.
Her first taste of electoral politics was in 1987. She contested from the Hardwar parliamentary constituency on a BSP ticket but lost. In the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, she won from Bijnore. Just a couple of years later, in 1991, she contested and lost from Bijnore, Bulandshahar, and Hardwar.
Her first tryst with leadership came in 1995 as she took over the reins of the Uttar Pradesh government. It wasn’t without some drama. Relations between the coalition government partners, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the BSP were on shaky ground. Following a dramatic series of events, including an alleged assault of BSP legislators by SP activists, the opposition BJP told the Governor that they would support Mayawati if she formed the government. She took the oath in June 1995 but only lasted till that October.
In the years since, she and the BSP have deftly manoeuvred through the heartland political landscape to successes and failures. Her chief ministerial stints, despite their durations (she has been chief minister four times, totalling seven years), have an important aspect to them – the political empowerment of the Dalit community. In that way, Mayawati was a trailblazer.
In the 1990s, her governments were criticised for not having an economic vision beyond welfare schemes for Dalits. Years later, her Sarvajan strategy was two-pronged – win power alone by mobilising upper castes and having an inclusive economic agenda to sustain that support. This didn’t sit well with some in the party. Their core constituency, the powerful Jatavs, deserted them in the 2012 elections.
Since the 2014 elections, Mayawati and the BSP have had to contend with the BJP being a powerful force in the heartland, cutting into the vote share of the SP and the BSP. The conservative Hindi heartland is a tricky landscape to navigate. In many ways, Mayawati represents the post-independence, educated, politically conscious generation of lower middle-class Dalits. Does that still carry water today?
VIEW: Influence slipping
The BSP hasn’t been in power since 2012. That’s a long time in politics. The party and Mayawati see forging alliances as a strategy that could dilute their commitment to identity-based politics. In the past, the opposition has called the BSP the BJP’s B-team. This perception has only grown since the 2014 elections.
The BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 meant the BSP didn’t win a single seat in the Lok Sabha. In the 2017 assembly polls, the BSP won only 19 out of 403 seats. That was its worst performance since 1991. It won a single seat in the 2022 assembly polls. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Over the past decade, Mayawati has been mostly absent from ground-level politics and party functions.
Not only has this resulted in the BSP’s dwindling electoral fortunes, many non-Jatav Dalits, like Dhobi, Pasi, Khatik, and Dusadh, decided to seek their political futures in other parties. The BSP relied on the Dalit vote. The party and Mayawati’s waning influence is a concern. Other parties are looking to capitalise. For example, the BJP with Asim Arun and the SP with Ambedkar Vahini. It’s unclear what Mayawati’s strategy is by not entering the INDIA coalition and going solo. With Dalit first-time voters increasing, she risks losing all political relevance.
COUNTERVIEW: Wait and watch
Understandably, many observers see Mayawati’s strategy to be faulty, especially with a crucial national election less than a year away. However, from her and the party’s point of view, forging alliances at this time could dilute the cadre’s commitment to the identity-based politics it’s known for. Other cadre-based parties, like the Left parties, can afford to form alliances and retain their identity among their cadre.
As news spread of the BSP not entering into an alliance with any other parties, the narrative they want out there is confidence. A senior BSP leader said the party has the support of Dalits, Muslims, and other weaker sections of society. The INDIA coalition wants to bring in Mayawati to bolster its chances, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is quite strong. This is important since the coalition continues to see Mayawati and the BSP as a force with considerable influence on the Dalit community.
There are a couple of examples of her continued influence. In last year’s Azamgarh Lok Sabha by-poll, the BSP fielded a Muslim candidate and the SP lost the seat. Then there’s the recent Ghosi by-polls. The BSP decided to sit this one out, and Mayawati appealed to her voters to either not vote or choose the NOTA (none of the above) option. Voter turnout saw an 8% decrease. While the SP saw this as normal for a by-poll, BSP leaders say this is the power of Mayawati’s words.
- View: The Mayawati factor and the ties in the heartland – The Economic Times
- Mayawati – Second most important woman in Indian politics – India Today
- Mayawati’s life is a compelling story – The Hindustan Times
- Decoding Mayawati’s decision to fight polls alone – Deccan Herald
- Neither Here Nor There: Why Mayawati Is Losing Relevance in the Heartland – The Wire
- Will Mayawati’s absence hurt Opposition alliance’s prospects in UP in Lok Sabha polls? – Deccan Herald
- How Mayawati is trying to remain relevant in 2024 and beyond – Newsdrum
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Mayawati is not relevant in heartland politics.
b) Mayawati remains relevant in heartland politics.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
G20 Declarations and the lack of detail
For the Left:
Dhyeya-Yatra: Charting the Rise of ABVP
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
EV policy upgrade (Delhi) – The state’s Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot announced that the Electric Vehicles Policy 2.0 will focus on incentivizing the retrofitting of vehicles due to its high cost. The existing policy, which expired on August 8, will be extended for six months or until the new one is ready. The government is also looking to strengthen last-mile connectivity by deploying 3,000 e-scooters and e-cycles, with the first phase featuring 1,500 such vehicles at metro stations.
Why it matters: The inclusion of retrofitting incentives in Delhi’s new Electric Vehicles Policy aims to make the transition to electric vehicles more affordable for the public. This move could accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, contributing to reduced emissions and a cleaner environment.
Curbing student politics (Gujarat) – The state Assembly has passed the Gujarat Public Universities Bill, 2023, which aims to dilute the powers of student leaders in 11 out of 18 state public universities. The bill proposes to replace elected student bodies with a Board of Management nominated by the government. The bill is now awaiting the Governor’s approval.
Why it matters: The new bill could significantly impact the political landscape of Gujarat’s universities, which have historically been a breeding ground for future leaders. The move is seen as a way to curb the autonomy of educational institutions and could stifle the voice of students in university governance. Critics argue that it may lead to a loss of democratic values within educational settings.
Teacher recruitment (Bihar) – The state cabinet has approved the recruitment of 69,692 teachers in government schools, to be conducted by the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC). This recruitment will commence after the ongoing process to hire 1.70 lakh teachers is completed. Additionally, the cabinet has sanctioned a 100% increase in the monthly honorarium for approximately 30,000 ‘Siksha Sewaks’ and 10,000 ‘Vikas Mitras,’ raising their pay to ₹22,000 and over ₹25,000 per month, respectively.
Why it matters: The large-scale recruitment aims to strengthen the educational infrastructure in Bihar, addressing the shortage of teachers and improving the quality of education. The significant pay hike for ‘Siksha Sewaks’ and ‘Vikas Mitras’ is expected to boost morale and attract more qualified individuals to these roles, thereby contributing to better educational outcomes.
Free electricity for Muslim Dhobis (Telangana) – The Telangana government has decided to extend the benefit of free electricity to Muslim washermen, also known as dhobis. The scheme will provide up to 250 units of free electricity per month for Dhobi Ghats and laundry shops. This decision came after Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi made a representation highlighting the needs of Muslim Dhobis who are engaged in the same profession as their backward caste counterparts.
Why it matters: The extension of free electricity to Muslim Dhobis aims to support a marginalized community and level the playing field for those engaged in the laundry profession. However, the move has sparked controversy, with critics like BJP National General Secretary Bandi Sanjay Kumar arguing that it could adversely affect the livelihoods of washermen from other communities.
Protests over seats (Sikkim) – The Limboo Tamang Voluntary Committee (LTVC) in Sikkim has threatened a statewide protest if the state government doesn’t secure Assembly seat reservations for the Limboo and Tamang communities before the 2024 elections. The LTVC criticized the ruling SKM government for failing to fulfil its 2019 election promise of providing seat reservations within 10 days of forming the government. The committee also claimed that the government has not submitted a new formula to the Central Government for seat reservations.
Why it matters: The issue of seat reservations for the Limboo and Tamang communities has been a longstanding concern, and the LTVC’s threat of a statewide protest highlights the growing frustration. The government’s failure to address this issue could have significant political repercussions, especially with the 2024 elections approaching.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
1 – Following his incredible show in the Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka recently, Mohammed Siraj reclaimed the number 1 spot in the men’s ODI bowling rankings.