Bhaujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati is the most intriguing character in the battle unfolding in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
In the past, slogans like Tilak, taraju aur talwar, unko maro juthe char ('Brahmins, traders and the warrior caste should be kicked') used to be the mantra of electoral success when Kanshi Ram, her mentor and the founder of BSP, took his movement to the economically poor and socially condemned Dalits, who were in search of a leader and a political party.
Thirty years on, BSP politics has gifted Mayawati a unique political situation.
In UP, Mayawati, as everyone knows and as the successive elections results have proved, has undisputed hold over the Dalit votes.
In the last election in UP, she secured 98 seats out of 403 seats with 23 per cent of the vote share.
In UP, Dalits constitute around 21 per cent of the electorate and it stands to her credit that she is able to transfer her share of votes to any candidate or party she chooses and that too at her price.
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As a result, paradoxically, she is able to give nominations to non-Dalit candidates.
Mayawati is so confident about the loyalty of her 'vote bank' that in public meetings she has accepted that she takes money from Thakur-Brahmin candidates to run her party.
In the last elections in UP in 2002, she gave a big chunk of the BSP tickets to Thakurs.
But Thakurs who got elected on BSP tickets were uncomfortable with 'Dalit politcs' and they deserted her and her party.
This time, too, under the influence of her advisor and party leader Satish Mishra, Mayawati has created history. (Mishra helps her in legal matters related to the 'Taj Corridor Case' in which Mayawati is implicated).
For the first time, she has given tickets to 89 Brahmins. This may seem audacious. It is indeed unprecedented in the caste-ridden society where social prejudices and identities are at the very core of political action-reactions.
An interesting scenario is opening in the coming UP election. Mayawati needs the undivided votes of Brahmins to make a significant impact in UP while her arch rival, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav is counting on Muslims voting en masse in his favour to add to his loyal constituency of Yadavs.
Mayawati has 'transferable votes' -- unlike even Sonia Gandhi. The Congress president enjoys a good image and the admiration of the people but as was proven in the last few elections, her charisma simply doesn't translate into votes at the end of the day. Least of all, Sonia Gandhi is unable to help political allies of her Congress party win elections.
Mayawati is Mayawati
Behanji, as she is known amongst her cadres, Mayawati is a one-woman-army leading the BSP.
She has this time found a new slogan – Brahmin shankh bajaega, hathi badhta jaega (Brahmin will blow the bugle and the elephant [BSP's symbol] will make progress).
As we know by now, it is highly probable that the UP elections will result in a hung state assembly.
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But if she is able to grab power by becoming the largest party in the assembly or by making timely post-poll alliances, she would have catapulted herself to a unique pedestal -- helping Brahmins ascend the ladders of power while being a ‘Dalit queen’.
She has indeed bargained hard and profitably.
She openly asked upper caste candidates, "Mere paas vote hai, aap mujhe kya doge?" ('I have votes, what can you offer me?')
She doesn't care for niceties and sophistication. She is openly contemptuous of middle class sensitivities over issues like corruption.
She thinks quickly, changes tack quickly, and is mindful only that the Dalits are still backing her.
Her big drawback is that she has formed the government twice in the past with the help of Bhartiya Janata Party. Her credibility on issues like secularism, corruption, democratic norms and the constitutional rights of backward classes is not inspiring.
The important Muslim constituency in UP will most likely stick to Mulayam instead of Mayawati because they find her an 'unguided political missile'.
Mayawati is a doer and if she decides to act on law and order or other issues, she can get things done. However, Yadavs and Kurmis dub her 'dictatorial' in her behavior while other backward castes like Kushwaha, Mauryas, Bhar, Nai and Dhobis who are little above Dalits in the social structure have been dissatisfied with her because she is not strongly fighting for quotas and reservations for them.
Mayawati's biggest strength, besides her loyal Dalit votes, is that she is best poised to garner the inevitable anti-incumbency votes against Mulayam Singh Yadav.
If she indeed succeeds in forming the government in Lucknow in mid-May with a combination of Dalit and Brahmin votes, the biggest loser will be the BJP.
And, it stands to reason when she says that Mulayam can only win the forthcoming election with clandestine, tactical help from the BJP.
Text by Sheela Bhatt and Nirmal Pathak