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Dalit-Yadav unity in UP: Will it be lethal?

Thursday, May 09, 2019
By Bharatkumar Raut

Now that five phases of voting for the next Lok Sabha elections are already over and almost 75 per cent of the total electorate have already exercised their right to franchise, a count-down for the 'verdict' has already begun. Within a fortnight, we will know the next rulers of the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the main contender to defend his position.
Though India is in theory a 'Union of States", in practice it's the Uttar Pradesh that calls the shots. Therefore it is important to examine and observe the developments in the northern state that is divided by regions, leaders and more importantly the caste-system, deep-rooted there. Modi may not be used to his political gambits backfiring but this was a big misadventure - the day after he attempted to wean away Mayawati, she shut him down forcefully.

The Dalit leader in a historic alliance with Akhilesh Yadav in UP, rejected the PM's contention that Yadav, and the Congress, which is not a part of their mahagathbandhan, are conspiring to cheat her by having a tacit deal of their own; she also called on her supporters to vote today for the Congress' candidates in Rae Bareli and Amethi - party bosses Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Mayawati was incensed by Modi's portrayal of her as an unwitting victim of a Congress-Yadav conspiracy. So what Modi in fact accomplished is what the Congress was desperate for: a truce with Mayawati after its leader in Guna, Jyotiraditya Scindia, poached her candidate, earning her wrath, of which there is no mean supply.

Mayawati's threat
Mayawati retaliated by threatening to end her support to the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh; Akhilesh Yadav said he would back her. So how has the Congress managed its new sweet spot with Mayawati? She does not give interviews so I spoke to senior leaders from the Congress, her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Akhilesh's Samajwadi Party (SP) to get a sense of the power play guiding this most tempestuous leader in Indian politics. Mayawati was livid at Modi's portrayal of her as a "bechari" (poor thing) being gypped by other political leaders around her. "Behen-ji's entire appeal to the Bahujan Samaj and our voters is that she is a powerful figure able to secure Dalit rights. Her image is that of a strong leader who does not compromise and who ensures that the BSP always gets its due. Modi made a mistake with his approach by trying to disempower Behen-ji and portraying her as a (mere) woman unable to understand complex politics. For her, a four-term UP Chief Minister, this was a huge insult. And Mayawati gave it back with interest by calling the BJP losers.”

Mayawati and Akhilesh are well aware that the BJP is desperate to convince UP voters that the mahagathbandhan is wobbly. Says a senior SP leader, "We know what they are up to, they want to portray Behen-ji as the weak link of the gathbandhan open to pressure and ambition. You will be surprised to know that Behen-ji suggested holding a joint meeting for Dimple Yadav (Akhilesh's wife) and her in Kannauj. The Yadav couple was thrilled and then Dimple Yadav touched her feet and Behen-ji blessed her as her own bahu. The underlining message of the picture to cadres of both parties and voters was loud and clear. Years of bitterness between the Yadavs and Dalits in caste-obsessed UP softened perceptibly. Our cadres are working as one and that is bothering the BJP," said a senior SP leader.

Earlier, Mayawati sharing the stage with Akhilesh's father and her bête noire Mulayam Singh Yadav while campaigning for him in his constituency of Mainpuri, their first appearance together in two decades, also went viral. The medium was the message and the cadres of both the parties avidly took note. The crackling chemistry between Mayawati and Yadav Junior has surprised leaders of both the parties and evoked huge interest from the Congress. Yadav walks the extra mile to ensure that Mayawati always feels like the respected senior partner and defers to her political calls such as dialling up the attack on the Congress, with whom she has a deeply fractious relationship. In turn, Mayawati seems to like Akhilesh Yadav beyond purely transactional politics, one of her trademarks.

In the final overs in UP
All these pleasantries between the regional heavyweights in the final overs of UP are upsetting the BJP. Earlier, its Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath tried to mock the alliance as that of "Bua and Babua" in which the nephew was being fooled. Now, Modi says that the nephew is fooling the aunt. Reacting to Mayawati's public threat to pull the plug on his government, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath said all issues would be sorted out. And the Congressman and smoothest operator of Indian politics did a huge private outreach to both Mayawati and Yadav. Kamal Nath was earlier Mayawati's main interlocutor in the Congress but this time around, he got another very senior congress leader to call her and patch up. Yadav also told her that they had to first win and then sort out the equation with the Congress.

Finally, and significantly, the Congress has stopped talking about the next UP Assembly election which was an irritant to both the SP and BSP. The Congress has made public overtures with both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi saying that despite fielding candidates across the state, they want to help the alliance by splitting the votes of the BJP. A senior BSP leader says "their public statements were very clumsily worded but that happens when you talk off the cuff. Our leader prefers to read out things so that no one can misinterpret."

In short, the togetherness of Dalits and Yadavs in the form of Gathbandhan is likely to alter the political equations in the UP and in turn the entire nation.

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