If the Muslims back Mayawati, nothing can stop her from forming the next government in UP, reports Aditi Phadnis.
Mayawati's first two major rallies in Uttar Pradesh were in August. She began with Agra, but as the second spot, she strategically chose Azamgarh, the eastern UP constituency that sent Mulayam Singh Yadav to the Lok Sabha (he contested Mainpuri as well as Azamgarh but opted to retain the latter).
Her pitch in Azamgarh was less about the attacks on Dalits -- although she referred to them -- but more about the concerns of Muslims.
Between August and now, Mayawati, who had become a bit lackadaisical in addressing political issues after the 2014 general election -- in which she got zero seats -- has become extraordinarily sensitive to the fears and pain of the minorities, especially Muslims.
She was one of the first to demand a judicial enquiry into the circumstances of the Bhopal encounter that resulted in the killing of eight undertrials who, allegedly, were members of the Students Islamic Movement of India, a banned organisation.
The Akhilesh Yadav government in UP prides itself on being the party that supports and protects the rights of Muslims. But on Wednesday, when a group of people got together in Lucknow under the aegis of civil liberties organisations to protest the encounter, they were beaten up by the very government that says it prizes the religious autonomy and freedom of the Muslims above all things.
"Mayawati is the first to react to the pain and fear of Muslims," civil liberties activist Ramkumar said after returning from the police station to file a first information report about the beatings.
"The SP (Samajwadi Party) government could have a delayed reaction, but not Mayawati. That is the reason she is now an alternative in their mind when it comes to preventing the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) from forming a government in UP in the next elections," he noted.
In the 2014 election, some Dalit subcastes -- the Pasi, for example, or the Sonkar -- supported the BJP. But the Jatav and the Chamar, those who work with leather, then and now, continue to side with Mayawati unreservedly.
At the Azamgarh rally, she arrived at noon. But, the ground where it was held (having a capacity of around 60,000) was packed since 8 am, making it extremely difficult for the organisers to manage those who had come late.
Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party reckons that if it can create a compact of Muslims and Dalits, together adding up to almost 30 per cent of the population, she will have no difficulty in forming the government.
In recognition of this, Mayawati has already promised 137 nominations to Muslims. She knows she is in competition with the SP for whom Muslims continue to have respect.
But the SP has been a laggard on many occasions: At a public meeting on Wednesday, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav said India does not want a war with Pakistan, but did not say a word about the 'encounter' of SIMI undertrials, fearing alienation of nationalist Yadavs.
Mayawati has no such reservations. She is in the forefront attacking the BJP, whether on the issue of triple talaq (with the rights of women as an excuse to mount an assault on the religious autonomy of a minority) or on the dangers to identity.
"Muslims are not a monolith. But they are very frightened. Whether in western UP (following the charge that Hindus were being forced to leave villages because of attacks from the Muslim mafia) or in Dadri (after the beef lynching), they can sense that there is danger to them all around. She is voicing that fear," Ramkumar added.
Will Muslims abandon the Mulayam camp and decamp to Mayawati? Analysts in Lucknow say if that happens, nothing can stop her from forming the government in 2017.