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Can Mayawati’s Muslim-Dalit focus make her queen of the UP?

That’s how a veteran Samajwadi who has worked closely with party supremoMulayam Singh Yadav for four decades chose to explain last month’s feud within the family, which has since ebbed but has by no means been quelled.

“If we are in the Opposition, we revolt and protest against the ruling party. If we are the ruling party and do not get anyone to fight with, we fight among ourselves (read: within the family),” shrugged the family loyalist. Mulayam set the cat among the pigeons on Friday when he said at a press conference that the elected MLAs will decide the next chief minister, putting a huge question mark over the future of son and incumbent CM Akhilesh Yadav.

Despite Netaji’s claim at the conference that there is no rift, the slugfest within the country’s biggest parivar-wadi party is doubtless a big blow to the SP ahead of the 2017 polls, with at least one survey suggesting that it will lose some 150 seats; in 2012, the SP won 224 seats to form the government. In that victory, the SP relied big time on the Muslim vote, fielding 17% of the 403 candidates from the community.

About 39% of Muslims, who account for 16-18% of UP’s voters, voted for the SP in the 2012 elections. The community, of course, assumes great significance ahead of an election, and it is no different this time around. The factionalism in the SP has also thrown this vote bank wide open, with every party bending over backwards to woo the Muslims of UP.

Last Sunday, it was Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati who found an opportunity to consolidate Muslim votes at a rally in Lucknow to mark the 10th death anniversary of Kanshi Ram, the party’s founder. Her logic on why Muslims should vote for the BSP was clear-cut: rather than split the votes between (a perceptibly weakened) SP and (a palpably weakened) Congress, the UP Muslims’ best bet would be to vote for the BSP en masse. The wooing operation had begun before the rally. Recently, the BSP had made Afzal Siddiqui, 27, the Muslim bhaichara-in-charge in six Muslim-dominated districts of western UP — Saharanpur, Meerut, Agra, Moradabad, Aligarh and Bareilly.

Can Mayawati’s Muslim-Dalit focus make her queen of the UP?Afzal is the son of Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Mayawati’s close aide and the Muslim face of the BSP. Afzal made a strong electoral debut in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, polling 3 lakh votes, but lost to BJP’s Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti from Fatehpur. The BJP, which an India Today-Axis opinion poll earlier this week said was ahead of the BSP and the SP (in that order), is doing its bit to stir the pot. If Kanshi Ram’s death anniversary provided Mayawati an opportunity to seek the Muslim vote, the BJP utilised that day to dig into the BSP’s core vote bank — the Dalit community. Episodes of cow vigilantism were duly forgotten as BJP president Amit Shah declared that the Modi government was for the Dalits.

Analysts, however, don’t expect much from such moves. “There is no (BJP) wave in 2017, so I can’t see the Dalits leaving the BSP in hordes,” says Badri Narayan, professor, Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, JNU. The BJP has already planned four rallies in UP, with one for Dalits. Shah was in Kanpur on Friday to see the culmination of a yatra by Buddhist monks that took BJP’s message to Dalits across UP.

The minority targets
To get down to brass tacks, 30% is what it takes to form a government in UP and for the ambitious — not quite realistic when a hung assembly seems a likely outcome — 40% would guarantee an absolute majority. In an ideal situation, the Dalit and Muslim vote would tot up to 39% (Dalits are roughly 21% of the state electorate and Muslims 18%), and virtually seal a decisive victory.

That may well be BSP’s target. “The BSP will get a majority of the minority votes,” claims BSP state president Ram Achal Rajbhar. Calling the BJP’s mantra of Sabka Saath (with everyone) as jumle baazi (rhetoric), the Akbarpur MLA reckons the BJP will have to rest content with a minuscule share of the Muslim vote. Analysts, however, say that in the wake of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when a fourth of Jatavs — the community to which Mayawati belongs — and 60% of other Dalits rallied behind Modi, Mayawati fears her love for Dalits may not be fully reciprocated.

This fear of rejection from “her own” can be another reason for her latest dalliance with the minorities. To be sure, the Muslim-Dalit gambit has been sporadically tried in UP politics. It was way back in 1961 that the two

Congress, after riots in Aligarh, to vote for the Republican Party of India (RPI).

Old flames
The current strategy of Dalit-Muslim solidarity is also reminiscent of the BSP’s 1996 election game plan when, in order to woo the Muslims, the party coined the slogan “Brahmin, thakur, bania chor; baaki sub hain DS4”; DS4 referred to the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, a Kanshi Ram-founded organisation. Then again, the union of the two communities was solemnised under the banner of BAMCEF (All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation), with Kanshi Ram calling it a platform for all the oppressed classes, including Muslims.

Can Mayawati’s Muslim-Dalit focus make her queen of the UP?

Some time before that, an SP-BSP coalition government brought the Dalits, Muslims and OBCs together. And in 2012, the BSP got 20% of the Muslim vote. Fast forward to 2016 and the BSP is particular in naming all party rallies as “Bahujan” rallies — a term coined by Kanshi Ram, which refers to a political bloc comprising Dalits, backwards and minorities. If the SP is worried, it isn’t showing it.

“Mayawati may try her best, but she will not be able to touch our vote bank,” Mulayam told ET Magazine recently. Mayawati, meanwhile, held rallies in carefully chosen towns: Agra, Azamgarh, Allahabad and Saharanpur, each with a strong Muslim and Dalit population. At the Saharanpur rally, she said that although Satish Mishra is the Brahmin face of the BSP, Siddiqui (a Muslim) and Rajbhar (a Dalit) are no less equal.

Along with a split in Muslim votes, perhaps the bigger worry for Mayawati is bit parties eating into her core Dalit vote bank. Consider, for instance, the re-entrant in UP politics, RPI (A)’s Ramdas Athawale. The party’s electoral slogan in 1962 was “Jatav-Muslim bhai-bhai; Hindu kaum kaha se aayee (Jatavs and Muslims are brothers; where did the Hindu community spring from?)”.

Athawale insisted that he is not in Lucknow to harm Behenji but to win back what was rightfully theirs. “The elephant is the RPI’s. In the wake of a growing discontent against the BSP, the Dalits of UP have an alternative,” Athawale told ET Magazine. As Election 2017 looms, the big question is whether the Dalits will stick with the BSP and the Muslims with the SP.

According to data from CSDS, 17% Muslims voted for the BSP in 2007 which rose to 20% in 2012. Contrarily, Muslim votes for the SP fell from 45% in 2007 to 39% in 2012. “The BSP is certainly an alternative for us; we will wait and watch. Whichever of the two looks better placed to defeat the BJP, we will vote for it,” says Naseem Zaidi, a cloth merchant in the Muslimdominated Chowk area of Lucknow. October still is too early to predict which way UP will vote.

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