POLITICS

What It's Like To Be At A Mayawati Rally

Muslim absence signals her Dalit-Muslim alliance isn't taking off

02/02/2017 11:26 AM IST | Updated 02/02/2017 3:43 PM IST
Pawan Kumar / Reuters

They came in scooters and cars, buses and goods vehicles, in just about whatever they could find. They waved party flags, showed off toy elephants, the party symbol. A few of them wore blue body paint, blue being the party's colour, because Ambedkar used to wear a blue coat.

On the outskirts of Meerut, there must have been about 25,000 people for Mayawati's rally yesterday. Some had to park their vehicles a kilometre away. As they marched to the rally ground, they raised slogans for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), waved its flags and sang songs, like they were going for a pilgrimage.

Many were poor, working as daily wage labour in the city, and a lot many were government employees, beneficiaries of reservations, the kind of people BSP's founder Kanshi Ram had begun his movement with.

There's something different about a Mayawati rally as opposed to those of others. Yes, of course, the crowds are mobilised with vehicles sponsored by various BSP candidates in and around Meerut. Just like any other political rally. Yet, their enthusiasm, nay devotion, could not have been purchased.

The second difference you notice in a Mayawati rally is how well-organised it is. There are no people climbing trees and walls. There's a discipline enforced by BVF, the Bahujan Volunteer Force, a unit of the BSP cadre. They wear white shirts and blue trousers, looking a bit like traffic policemen. They make sure people don't cross barricades, women sit in the women's section and non-journalists don't jump into the media section. This is a sign of the BSP being a cadre-based party as much as of Mayawati's love for anushasan, discipline.

SHIVAM VIJ / HUFFINGTON POST INDIA

When the moderator said we have to make Mayawati CM the fifth time, the crowd burst in applause. Amidst countless party flags, someone waved the Indian tri-colour, at which the moderator remarked, "One day we have to make Behenji prime minister so she can hoist the tri-colour on the Red Fort on Independence Day." The crowd's joy knew no bounds.

Behenji's helicopter is hovering above the rally crowd. Everyone gets up. The moderator is panicking. Enthusiasm is good but anushasan is important. Please don't stand over the chairs. Sit down, please sit down, take your seats before Behenji lands, make sure you remember the slogan, Behen Kumari Mayawati, Zindabad! Zindabad!

Behenji's helicopter lands behind the stage, a car drives her from there to the stairs. Everyone wants a glimpse of Behenji but the BVF makes them all sit down. Behenji reaches the stage. The moderator announces, "Bhartiya Sherni (Indian Lioness), Iron Lady, one of the world's most powerful women, soon to be Uttar Pradesh chief minister for a fifth term, and India's prime minister in 2019, Behen Mayawati is with us."

Of Dalits and Muslims

Mayawati speaks in a clear but monotonous voice. For a mass politician, she doesn't believe in emotions, only reason. She attacks both the Samajwadi Party and the Bhartiya Janata Party, but spends a lot more time on the latter.

She complains about how the Akhilesh Yadav government has appropriated her schemes and development work, simply renaming them, such as the Samajwadi pension scheme. Be it the Lucknow Metro or the Agra-Lucknow expressways, she claims it was in her government between 2007-2012 that these projects were initiated.

The attack shows Mayawati's on the defensive with Akhilesh Yadav's campaign pitch of having delivered progress to the people of the state. Perhaps it's too late for Mayawati to own the development narrative.

She proceeds to give a methodical explanation of why the Samajwadi Party-Congress Gatbandhan is going to lose this election.

The fight with uncle Shivpal Yadav meant their "base vote" (the Yadavs) is getting divided, she says. If Muslims were to vote for the Samajwadi Party, they would not only be wasting their vote but also indirectly helping the BJP, she reasons. Instead of voting for SP, Muslims should vote for their only well-wisher, the BSP, as its base vote is rock solid and won't get divided. Dalits and Muslims voting together, she says, would mean the BJP getting roundly defeated.

She goes on a long tirade against Narendra Modi, accusing the prime minister of having fooled people with impossible dreams in 2014. Has Modi fulfilled his promises, she asked the audience twice, both times receiving a resounding no.

After accusing the Modi government of being one with the rich and corrupt, saving Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya, doing "nautankis" (dramas) such as communal violence and surgical strikes, she accuses the BJP of being anti-Dalit. She counted the "Rohith Vemula kand, Gujarat Una kand, Dayashankar kand," the last a reference to a BJP leader who had made sexist remarks against her.

It became clear here that Mayawati's attack on the BJP isn't just about showing Muslim voters she's more anti-BJP than the SP. It is also about Dalit voters. A section of Dalits, her "base vote", had voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, reposing faith in the way shown by Narendra Modi's campaign promise of achhe din, the good days.

For Dalits and OBCs to vote for the BJP, she says, is like voting against your own reservations benefits.

But where are the Muslims?

She then counted the BJP's sins against Muslims, from trying to take away the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University to ending triple talaq, cow vigilantism, violence in the name of love jihad, false terrorism charges and so on. Every possible keyword she could use against the BJP, she did, describing it in the end with the Hindi saying, Munh mein Ram, bagal mein churi.

These days, thanks to the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, politicians avoid using the word Muslim. Instead, they say alpsankhyak or minority.

But where are the alpsankhyaks? Even though three Muslim candidates of the BSP are on stage, there is hardly any response from the audience when she raises Muslim community issues. That's because there aren't many Muslims here, a sign her Dalit-Muslim alliance is not working.

"In your favour"

She outlined the only risk the BSP faced in this election: that people could be tempted by promises made in party manifestos and be fooled by media surveys managed by parties ("especially BJP").

The BSP doesn't issue a manifesto, but Mayawati went on to enumerate manifesto-like election promises.

She would review cases of those languishing in jails for years thanks to false cases, a reference to terrorism cases against Muslims.

Those who have been victims but remain aggrieved because the SP government wouldn't file FIRs, would get justice, she says in an obvious reference to violence against Dalits. The audience started clapping. Mayawati admonished them: don't clap, listen to me carefully, I'm saying things that are of your interest. Before Mayawati became a politician, she was a school teacher.

The audience went silent. Mayawati promised to alleviate the perennial financial problems of sugarcane farmers. She promised jobs, reminding people how her government gave police jobs between 2007-12 "in your favour, without discrimination, without bribes." When she says 'in your favour', the implication is clear, she is talking about Dalits without spelling it out. The crowd not only clapped but also started raising slogans. She again admonished them to not raise slogans, listen to me, carefully.

Other politicians pause to give the audience a cue to clap and raise slogans. Mayawati has never believed in such theatrics.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Instead of laptops and smartphones, she says she'll give direct financial help so poor families can decide what they need to spend it on.

Instead of the "ghatiya" (terrible) cooked food served in mid-day meals in schools, she would replace it with cake, biscuits, milk, eggs and fruits.

She'll waive off bank loans up to Rs 1 lakh. It is clear by now that she is joining the freebie war with the SP and the BJP this election.

She saves the most important bit for the end, promising to get land for the landless. The "dabang" (dominating) who have illegally occupied land will be removed and put in jails. The crowd is on cloud nine. There is nothing more that the rural Dalits want.

In the end, she asks people to vote for the party that will establish rule of law. People start getting up and leaving even before Mayawati can end her speech. The BVF personnel are furious. It isn't that the people are being disrespectful towards Mayawati. They run to the barricades behind the stage, to catch a glimpse of Mayawati leaving in her helicopter, shouting Mayawati Zindabad!

Dressed in black, fingers on the triggers of automatic rifles, commandos surround her helicopter until it flies away, leaving hundreds of cellphone cameras with a dust storm to remember.

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