While the Congress has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of its 2014 drubbing and the BJP is licking its wounds and wondering about its fate in next year’s General Election, Mayawati can be regarded as the biggest loser. Her hopes that she could use the Assembly polls in the three heartland states as a stepping stone to greater national glory have been dashed. Before the polls, it was believed that she would enter into an alliance with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh in accordance with the plans for forming a Mahagathbandhan ahead of the 2019 contest. Had she done so, she could have basked in the limelight of the Congress’s glory as a partner.
But a stray remark by the Congress’s perennial loose cannon, Digvijaya Singh, about the BSP czarina being under pressure from the BJP made her change her mind even as negotiations were going on between the BSP and the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and constituted an alliance with the breakaway Congress leader, Ajit Jogi, in Chhattisgarh.
Not only that, she also decided that the BSP would contest a fair number of seats in Madhya Pradesh on its own. It appeared that she was looking for an opportunity to ditch the Congress, presumably because she was not too sure how it will fare.
Because of these changes in her stance, it was believed that the Congress had received a body blow and the BJP had got a booster shot because the BSP would cut into the Congress’s base of support in the two states. Jogi even boasted that the ground had been prepared for him to be the chief minister in Chhattisgarh and Mayawati the prime minister. In the end, these grandiose dreams proved illusory. The Congress scored a runaway victory in Chhattisgarh and was able to form a government in Madhya Pradesh, albeit with the BSP’s and the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) support since the Congress fell two short of a majority.
For the BSP and SP, which had fought on their own in Madhya Pradesh, it was a sorry-faced climb down, proving the veracity of the adage that nothing succeeds like success where the Congress was concerned. If Mayawati had presumed that she was in a position to dictate terms to the Congress because of the durability of her Dalit base whereas the Congress was banking solely on the anti-incumbency factor affecting the BJP, her supposition has proved to be wide of the mark.
In any event, she should have known that her vote share was in the single digits in the two states 4.29 per cent in Chhattisgarh and 6.4 in Madhya Pradesh while the Congress’s percentages were in the forties in Chhattisgarh and the high thirties in Madhya Pradesh.
It was unrealistic of her, therefore, to have tried to flex her muscles based, apparently, on the belief that the Congress hadn’t quite recovered from its lowly status of winning a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and being a party of little account in UP, Mayawati’s home province.
It remains to be seen whether she gets off her high horse after her unimpressive showing in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the BSP’s vote share has fallen to 3.9 per cent in Chhattisgarh and to 5 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. If she draws the right lessons from this decline, she will be somewhat more accommodative of the Congress in UP where she is a part of a gathbandhan with the SP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Again, if she does mellow down, she will be expected to attend the occasional opposition get-togethers from which she has stayed away ever since she was seen in the company of Sonia Gandhi and nearly a dozen others at HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony as the Karnataka chief minister last summer.
Irrespective of how she conducts herself in future vis-à-vis the national opposition parties, there is little doubt that she has lost the chance of being projected as a prime ministerial candidate as was done when the CPI(M) withdrew support from the Manmohan Singh government in 2008 at a time when she was riding high after the BSP won a majority of its own in the UP Assembly in 2007.
There have been several occasions after that when some of the commentators have backed the idea of her as the prime minister. But her loss of power in U.P. and now the setbacks in the heartland states have undermined her image.
She has also been seen as unreliable who may not be averse to doing a deal with the BJP if and when it unleashes the enforcement directorate and the income-tax authorities against her and her relatives as Digvijay Singh hinted.
Mayawati also appears to be lacking in confidence unlike the new generation of Dalit leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan” and Jignesh Mevani. The latest setbacks may make her even less self-assured.
(The author is a political commentator)