'Unless she joins one of the coalitions, she has a bleak future.'
'The NDA option is suicidal, but INDIA could help her.'
The third angle of the triangle determining the cycle of Uttar Pradesh politics, namely the Bahujan Samaj Party, remains inscrutable.
Its leader, Mayawati, rarely plays by the rules of conventional politics.
She avoids striking alliances with other parties, making exceptions, as in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when she teamed up with the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
She rarely contests by-polls when other parties view the exercise as a trial of strength, never addresses public meetings or workers' conventions when she is out of power, and seldom reveals her plans to the media.
However, Mayawati waived aside her own commandment on August 23 when she announced that the BSP would independently contest the 2024 Lok Sabha polls without forming an alliance or understanding with the Opposition's big-tent Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) or the Bharatiya Janata Party-helmed National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
A BSP statement quoted her as stating that whenever she aligned with a party, her votes got transferred to the partner, but she gained nothing.
However, this was not the case in the parliamentary election when the BSP was part of the SP-RLD mahagatbandhan or Grand Coalition in UP.
The BSP picked up 10 of the 80 seats, the SP just five, while the RLD drew a blank.
The statement came days before the INDIA bloc met in Mumbai. Mayawati criticised INDIA and the NDA for 'doing little for the welfare of the bahujan samaj', to validate her decision.
"How can we go with the Congress, which constantly falls into the BJP's trap?" asks the BSP's Bijnor MP Malook Nagar and cites the party's opposition to the BJP's move to rename India as Bharat and the kerfuffle over Sanatan Dharma raised by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, an INDIA constituent, as examples of how it "alienated 80 per cent of the Hindu population".
"But we can't go with the BJP because we fight for the Dalits and farmers, and the BJP works against them," says Nagar, adding cryptically, "Politics is a game of possibilities."
Out of power in UP since 2012, the BSP has been on a downslide, unable to leverage its purported Dalit vote bank to its advantage as in the past.
The recent by-election to the Ghosi assembly seat in eastern UP partially confirmed Mayawati's slackening command over Dalit votes, especially those of the Jatavs who make up the BSP's core base.
The party did not field a candidate, turning the contest into a BJP versus SP (supported by the Congress) face-off.
Against all odds, the SP pulled off a spectacular win, defeating the BJP's contestant by 42,759 votes and mobilising a vote share of 57.19 per cent, compared to the BJP's 37.54 per cent.
Significantly, in the 2022 assembly polls, the SP won Ghosi but with a smaller vote percentage of 42.21 per cent, while the BJP polled 33.57 per cent.
The BSP had put up a candidate who secured 21.12 per cent of the votes.
S R Darapuri, a former UP top cop who was later a close associate of BSP founder Kanshi Ram but fell out with Mayawati, says, "She asked Dalits to go for NOTA (none of the above), but evidently, they rejected her call and voted for SP."
Darapuri's party, the All India People's Front, backed the SP in Ghosi.
"The Jatavs are in large numbers in the east. My feedback was that they made up their minds to defeat the BJP because they are Ambedkar-ites to the core and less influenced by Hindutva than other Dalit sub-castes," says Darapuri.
"This is not to say that the Jatavs have not voted for the BJP since 2014, but they are disillusioned with the Centre's attempts to undermine public undertakings such as phone companies and the Railways.
"Except for senior levels, these companies are mostly staffed by Dalits due to statutory reservation. Mayawati's father was a P&T employee, so she should understand the situation."
Chandra Bhan Prasad, an advisor to the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a political commentator, unequivocally states that this is Mayawati's now-or-never moment.
"Unless she joins one of the coalitions, she has a bleak future. The NDA option is suicidal, but INDIA could help her because the Dalit middle class fears the BJP and will vote for a party or coalition that can defeat the BJP."
Nagar rejectes the idea, saying, "We have nearly a 14 per cent intact vote. If we go with the BJP, the NDA will begin with a tally of 103 seats. Conversely, we can get 60 seats for INDIA in UP."
Prasad's rejoinder to Nagar's claim is, "A fixed vote quantum won't convert into seats."
However, Mayawati demonstrated her potential to damage an anti-BJP force repeatedly.
For instance, in the 2022 Azamgarh by-poll -- one of the few by-polls the BSP contested -- her candidate, Shah Alam, polled 266,210 votes with a 29.27 vote percentage and ensured the defeat of SP contestant Dharmendra Yadav, who lost to the BJP's Dinesh Lal Yadav by 8,679 votes in a Yadav-Muslim-strong constituency, which the BJP had never won before.
Alam took away a considerable chunk of the minority votes from the SP.
Currently, the BSP is focused on rural and young voters and is looking for ways to strengthen its once-solid booth and sector committees.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com