New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s decision to initiate contempt proceedings against the Uttar Pradesh government for violating its orders to stop construction work on the memorials of Dalit leaders being built in Lucknow and Noida, while upholding the law, could have given the state’s chief minister Mayawati ammunition to chart a political comeback.
Analysts say the court directives against the controversial memorial constructions may be spun to portray Mayawati as the victim of a conspiracy and thereby provide the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), reeling from the dismal performance in the April-May Lok Sabha election, fresh wind.
Any resurgence before elections to the key state assemblies of Maharashtra and Haryana, where the BSP has the potential to play spoiler by weaning Dalit votes, will pose a political challenge to the Congress, which is the incumbent in both states. BSP is contesting all of the 90 and 288 seats, respectively, for the assembly elections due on 13 October.
Blessing in disguise? Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati. Nand Kumar / PTI
A Congress leader who did not want to be identified said the BSP could spoil an “otherwise easy” election in Haryana, especially at a time when Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has started “challenging” Mayawati’s “dominance over Dalit support base in Uttar Pradesh”.
An apex bench comprising of justices B.N. Agrawal and Aftab Alam, while hearing arguments on whether the Uttar Pradesh government and the chief minister have defied the court’s earlier orders to stop work at the memorials, said there was a “strong prima facie” case made out for initiating contempt proceedings.
The BSP declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s remarks on Tuesday. “This is a matter related to (the) court. I will not make any comment for the time being,” said BSP member of Parliament and party treasurer Ambeth Rajan.
Political analysts say the issue would now become a useful political tool for Mayawati, who is now facing a challenge from the ruling Congress as well as some smaller parties.
“Mayawati may take refuge in victimhood but very cautiously because she is afraid of the courts too. She will not attack the court directly, but will make it a poll issue,” said Badri Narayan, an Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst specializing in Dalit affairs. The construction of the memorials in the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar, BSP founder Kanshi Ram and Mayawati herself, for which the state has a total budgetary allocation of Rs5,200 crore, has apparently become a prestige issue for the Dalit leader.
Ajoy Bose, author of the BSP chief’s political biography, suspects the violation of the Supreme Court order may be deliberate. “Mayawati will use all the campaigns against the statues and memorials as a useful political tool,” he said. “Dalits, who feel themselves as a victim community, will cling to their leader when the leader is under perceived attack. The conspiracy theory has always worked magic for her in politics.”
From being a party that had forfeited its deposit in 222 constituencies in 1989, the BSP, whose support base is Dalits, won majority single-handedly in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly in the 2007 elections. According to figures made available by the Election Commission of India, the BSP got 23.19% votes in the 2002 assembly polls and 24.67% in the 2004 general election in Uttar Pradesh. It won 206 of the 403 seats in the May 2007 assembly elections, winning 30.43% of the votes in the most populous state which had long been a bastion of the Congress, the BJP and the socialists. The party has a presence in almost all states of the country.
Congress leaders who desperately want to repeat their party’s stunning performance in the recent general election—it won 206 of 543 seats—and retain power in Maharashtra and Haryana admit that Mayawati could pose a serious threat. “If she decides, we had it,” a Congress general secretary said referring to the Haryana elections. Political observers also agreed that the BSP chief had “an axe to grind” after the Uttar Pradesh state Congress leaders led by Gandhi started focusing on Dalit voters in the state. Rahul Gandhi has launched efforts to woo Dalit voters by making forays into their villages and spending nights at their homes.
However, Bose felt the controversy over the statues and the court proceedings will reflect in the forthcoming by-elections. Eleven constituencies in Uttar Pradesh are going to polls on 7 November.
“The media reports and the campaign against her does not mean that she has become less powerful politically. It of course set a bad impression about her image as a good administrator. All these controversies indicate that she has failed as an administrator. But politically, Dalits being the core support base for her will come to her help. Maybe that is why she is also provoking the courts,” Bose said.
Kanshi Ram and Mayawati initially came up with catchy slogans such as “Tilak, taraju aur talwar, inko maro joote char!” to rouse Dalit cadres.
Although the BSP’s growth was consistent, Mayawati’s political career has witnessed sharp swings. “It is true that she gives her best when she is an underdog,” Bose said. “Her biography is really fascinating. She knows the saga very well and she knows how to play the underdog very well.”