19/07/2017 5:20 PM IST | Updated 19/07/2017 10:30 PM IST

Mayawati's Rajya Sabha Resignation Could Be The Beginning Of Her Reinvention

A cat has nine lives.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Mayawati's resignation from the Rajya Sabha begins her next act as Dalit queen. Recently deciding between the BJP's and Congress' Dalit candidates for Rashtrapati Bhawan, Behenji has begun her re-invention.

From Modi's BJP nationally, to the Bhim Army on her home turf of west UP, everyone has been out to make Mayawati irrelevant. The reason Mayawati has cited for her resignation – that she wasn't allowed to speak on atrocities against Dalits – is clearly meant to present herself as the martyr for the Dalit cause. If this was in doubt, she has cited Ambedkar's resignation from Nehru's cabinet.

Dr Ambedkar had resigned after many failed attempts to push the Hindu Code Bill, and Mayawati has said her voice is being similarly suppressed.

Ambedkar resigned also because he wanted to focus on organising Dalits for India's first general election. Citing this, Mayawati added in her note that the Bahujan Samaj Party has been tried and tested several times.

The BSP's vote share in the 2014 general elections was 4.1%, enough to make it the third largest recipient of votes. Yet it translated into zero seats. Since then, the BSP has been facing the possibility of desertion of its base Jatav votes, Mayawati's own castes. The non-Jatav Dalits have largely gone to the BJP already. Impressed by Narendra Modi's pro-poor rhetoric, Dalits have been wooed by the BJP through the prism of class. Given the BJP is making a Dalit from UP the next President of India, Mayawati is fighting a desperate battle for relevance. Before 2014, Mayawati's war was to add incremental votes to her Dalit vote-bank. Since 2014, her war is to save the vote-bank itself.

Whether Mayawati has a political future depends entirely on her ability to adapt and evolve with the changing times.

When the BSP won only 19 seats in the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, it became clear that 2014 wasn't a mere aberration. The party had a majority of 403 seats in the UP assembly just a decade ago. Back then, Mayawati was dreaming of prime ministership. Just two election cycles later, she is looking irrelevant. She can't even win a Rajya Sabha seat on her own.

Mayawati and her party seem to be in a state of paralysis, unable to evolve with the times. A party that has never known how to use the mainstream media to its advantage, how can it compete on social media with its grand daddy, the BJP?

Pawan Kumar / Reuters

A cat has nine lives. Whether Mayawati has a political future depends entirely on her ability to adapt and evolve with the changing times. She has shown, in the past, that she can do so. After all, it was after Kanshi Ram passed away, and therefore without her guidance, that she scripted a Brahmin strategy to win the 2007 UP assembly election, the first time in 17 years any party won an independent majority in the state.

Her resignation gimmick from the Rajya Sabha is the first step in showing she can indeed transform herself and her party for the post-Modi era. In 2018, she is likely to be re-elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar, with generous support from Lalu Yadav's RJD and the Congress, re-asserting that her political capital goes beyond how many seats her party can win.

Her challenge isn't Modi alone. Since 2014, her nemesis Samajwadi Party's young turk Akhilesh Yadav has proven to be better at adapting to the new politics of India.

Akhilesh Yadav may be a younger, smarter leader, but theoretically, Mayawati is better placed to script a comeback in UP than the SP.

To script a comeback, the SP needs to transform its party, and the BSP needs to transform its leader.

The critical factor in winning UP for any party – BJP, BSP or SP – is to get as many non-Yadav OBC votes as possible. These are big castes like Kurmis and Lodhs, but also countless small castes from Shakya to Teli.

These castes, as well as the BJP-voting upper castes, have shown greater open-ness in voting for the BSP than the SP. The SP, despite the best efforts of Akhilesh Yadav, continues to be seen as a party of Muslims and Yadavs, who together don't bring enough seats to cross the majority mark in the house.

The BSP's vote share in UP actually went up between 2014 and 2017, from 19.6% to 22.2%. Regardless of how many MLAs and MPs she has, that is a substantial and consistent vote share.

The SP had 22.2% vote share in 2014 (in UP alone), while the Congress won 7.5%. The two parties contested the 2017 elections in an alliance, bringing down both their vote-shares marginally. The SP won 21.8% and the Congress received 6.2%.

In other words, Mayawati's performance in UP improved marginally about 3 years after the 2014 Modi wave, whereas the Samajwadi Party and the Congress declined marginally.

To script a comeback, the SP needs to transform its party, and the BSP needs to transform its leader. The latter is far easier, and perhaps Mayawati has made a beginning.

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