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Lone ranger, Dalit 'icon' Mayawati slips into oblivion, as Chandashekhar Azad steps in

By Darshan Desai* 
BSP in 2002:
Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar,
Inko maaro jutey chaar
BSP in 2007:
Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar,
Inko pujo barambaar
Once a Dalit icon and a tough ruler, who could get away with major success with both these diametrically opposite caste slogans in Uttar Pradesh, the inimitable Mayawati is today scrounging for every inch of space for existence. And getting lonelier.
Not only has her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) not won a single of the seven assembly seats for which by-elections were held recently, but it is not even a first runner-up in any of them, except Bulandshahr. BJP won six seats and Samajwadi Party one.
The gradual decimation of her party that was once a symbol of Dalit assertion against the big bad world of high caste hegemony in the country is the result of opportunistic alliances, over-ambition and greed for power. The Dalit queen lost the script and now political analysts could only guess if she could salvage the game in the 2022 elections.
Having reached dizzy heights after her first major victory in 2007, up to 2012, when Mayawati executed all her projects like Ambedkar Park and Smriti Sthal Ambedkar Maidan in Lucknow, and similar constructions in Noida, the fall was dramatic in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the BSP could not even open an account and finished a poor third in the 2017 assembly polls.
And a desperate Mayawati endeared herself to the Samajwadi Party during Lok Sabha 2019, brushing aside hostilities of 24 long years. But this too didn’t help. And of now, it has proved to be a big zero in the byelections.
What is more, several top leaders have left BSP during the past decade, having been reduced to sheer minions. Her troubleshooter Team 11 has deserted her one by one. These 11 Commanders were, Babu Singh Kushwaha, Swami Prasad Maurya, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Brijesh Pathak, Jugal Kishore, Daddu Prasad, KK Gautam, R K Chaudhary, Ram Achal Rajbhar, Tribhuvan and Ramveer Upadhyay. More recently, as many as seven BSP legislators met Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav and expressed their willingness to join his party.
Mayawati misjudged and narrowly interpreted her historic 2007 victory as a triumph of her social engineering, successfully marrying her core with Tilak (Brahmin), Tarazu (Baniya) and Talwar (Rajput) and, by implication, her sudden acceptability among all castes on the Manuwadi ladder.
This caste combination of sorts, indeed, helped the BSP but the principal reason for her victory was her image as a strong administrator with zero tolerance towards the incredibly worsened law-and-order situation under the Samajwadi Party rule.
She had the temerity to have her own party's MLA arrested from the gate of her official chief ministerial residence and get the likes of the dreaded Raja Bhaiyya and Mukhtar Ansari jailed. This caught the imagination of the people, who had been rendered completely helpless during the anarchy prevailing under Mulayam Singh Yadav earlier. This was almost the first time that law and order as also governance seemed to have become bigger issues than caste dynamics, though the latter could not be separated from mainstream politics.
However, having conquered the country's most populous State instilled in her national ambitions a wee bit too early. The allegations of corruption against her was not so much an issue for her core Dalit base for even in that they saw their own assertion -- as if telling the world that well, it is our turn now. 
But the disenchantment set in once Behenji developed national ambitions and started a veritable "Bharat bhraman" with the slogan: "Hathi chala Dilli ki or" (the elephant, her party's election symbol, on way to Delhi). As she did so, Mayawati abrogated the massive state to a coterie of ministers and bureaucrats, throwing open the huge State coffers for them.
Gradually, the Dalits were forgotten, assuming them as a foregone permanent base that would remain glued to her in any case. Albeit, there is no denying that several sections of Dalits are still loyal soldiers of the BSP -- with the numbers gradually dwindling.
Gradually, the Dalits were forgotten, assuming them as a foregone permanent base that would remain glued to Mayawati in any case
The fact is that every election -- howsoever big or small -- is proving to be the swansong of BSP and Mayawati, the Dalit vote and aspiration is not only sliding but also getting split. This explains the slow, but sure, emergence of Chandrashekhar Azad aka Ravan.
Mayawati was a unifying Dalit force, a symbol of their upliftment, their empowerment. But her experiments with other opportunistic caste and community tie-ups have only accelerated the disillusion among the Dalits.
Chandashekhar is stepping into that slot. His new outfit, Azad Samaj Party (Kanshiram) (ASP), suitably incorporates the name of the doyen of Dalit assertion and the mentor of Mayawati. As of now, the ASP contested only one of the seven assembly seats, which went to bypolls in the State, but the votes polled by its candidate speak volumes. 
The ASP contestant walked away with more than 13,500 votes in Bulandshahr constituency and successfully punctured whatever was left of the BSP nominee's electoral prospects. ASP finished third after BSP, pushing Congress to number four. BJP won by 21,000 votes. If the split had not happened, it was Mayawati’s seat.
Even BSP leaders concede that Chandrashekhar wields considerable influence over the Dalits and is a serious threat, especially in the western UP region. And he will seek to expand all over by the next State Assembly elections due in less than two years.
“We are preparing for the next assembly elections. We feel strongly about the fact that Mayawati has not been able to protect the interests of the Dalits,” Chandrashekhar says. The Dalit leader has been active in the western districts of Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bulandshahr, and many others and had also launched a series of agitational programs on issues concerning the community.
--- 
*Editor, Development News Network, Gujarat

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