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In A Deft Stroke, Mayawati Has Turned BJP's Cow Into BSP's Advantage

The alacrity with which Mayawati turned the tables on the BJP has left the party stunned and also very worried.

22/07/2016 7:36 PM IST | Updated 22/07/2016 8:38 PM IST
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Dalits hold portraits of prominent freedom fighter Bhim Rao Ambedkar and protest against the alleged attack on community members for skinning a cow in Una, in Ahmadabad, India, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

The BJP's narrative in UP is unraveling. It had reintroduced the cow into the political discourse by raking up the Dadri beef controversy to consolidate its Hindu vote. But in one swift move, as the saffron party struggles to douse the fires of Dalit anger in Gujarat after a group of young men were stripped and beaten by cow protection activists, Mayawati has snatched the cow from under its nose and made it the lynchpin of her efforts to craft a Dalit-Muslim alliance for next year's assembly polls.

The BSP chief was forthright and scathing as she rubbed it in during a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the events that have led to the worst Dalit uprising in Gujarat in three decades. "In the name of cow protection, in the past one and a half years, first there were atrocities against Muslims. Now we see even Dalits are not being spared. This is not just in Gujarat but across the country, especially in BJP-ruled states," she thundered.

According to the 2011 census, Dalits comprise 20.5 % of UP's population. Muslims are estimated to be around 18 %.

It was a remarkable display of political agility and serves as a reminder of what makes Mayawati the formidable politician that she is. By joining the dots between a caste atrocity in Gujarat and the communal undercurrents rippling through UP, she has created a platform on which Dalits and Muslims can make common cause. Ironically, the cow is the bond thanks to high-pitched vigilantism by the BJP and its saffron affiliates.

The alacrity with which Mayawati turned the tables on the BJP has left the party stunned and also very worried. The D-M combination is lethal. According to the 2011 census, Dalits comprise 20.5 % of UP's population. Muslims are estimated to be around 18 %. Election analysts believe that together, the two communities can influence the outcome in at least 250 of the 400 seats with a cascading effect that could impact another 50 odd results.

To her credit, she recognized the potency of the cow as a symbol to unite Dalits and Muslims in protest against the violence being perpetrated in the name of protecting it.

Mayawati has been eyeing the winning potential of this social combination for a long time. In 2007, she had experimented with a Brahmin-Dalit alliance with great success. She won a majority in the assembly election that year to give UP its first stable single party government in nearly two decades.

The alliance failed to hold and she lost the election five years later to the Samajwadi Party and Akhilesh Yadav. This time, aware of Muslim disenchantment with both the SP and the Congress and the community's deepening alienation from the BJP because of increasing communal tensions, she has been concentrating on wooing the minority vote in UP.

There is little doubt that the outburst of Dalit anger in Gujarat has hit the BJP's outreach to the community.

At least 100 Muslim candidates are slated to get BSP tickets this time. She has also been keeping her chief Muslim face, Naseemuddin Siddiqi, close to her at her rallies and meetings. In the run-up to the 2007 polls, she used similar tactics with her Brahmin face, Satish Misra. He helped her to organize Brahmin sammelans across UP.

But Mayawati lacked an issue that would spearhead her efforts. The BJP has handed her one on a platter. To her credit, she recognized the potency of the cow as a symbol to unite Dalits and Muslims in protest against the violence being perpetrated in the name of protecting it. In Gujarat, Dalits were the target. In UP, it's the Muslims with the most grotesque case reported from Dadri last year when elderly Mohd. Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in his own home on charges of stocking beef in his refrigerator.

Modi sacrificed one close aide in Smriti Irani by turfing her out of the education ministry.

The controversy was revived recently with BJP members in Dadri insisting that the Akhlaq family be prosecuted for killing a cow to eat it. This was after a forensic laboratory in Mathura claimed that the meat found in Akhlaq's fridge was that of a cow or its progeny.

There is little doubt that the outburst of Dalit anger in Gujarat has hit the BJP's outreach to the community. What makes it worse is that Gujarat is Narendra Modi's home turf and Amit Shah's too. The duo will have to do some out-of-the-box thinking to repair the damage.

Modi sacrificed one close aide in Smriti Irani by turfing her out of the education ministry. One of the chief reasons was to appease simmering anger among Dalits because Irani was seen as the face of institutional highhandedness that led to PhD scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide. Will he now sacrifice another favourite in Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel to douse the rage of the Dalits in the hope that the BJP can claw back some of the advantage it has lost to Mayawati in UP?

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