In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal won only 15 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Yesterday, Mayawati announced that her party would split from the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP to independently fight the upcoming assembly bypolls in the state. “If we feel in future that SP chief succeeds in his political work, we’ll again work together,” she said.
Mayawati has served as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times, and the SP has been the most formidable political rival to her party. In the following excerpt from “Everybody’s Brother,” a profile of Yadav published in The Caravan’s September 2015 issue, the journalist Neha Dixit reported how countering Mayawati helped the SP heir stake his claim to power in the party, and later become the state’s chief minister.
Yadav first made his mark as a popular leader in 2008, when he led statewide student protests against the Mayawati regime, ensuring that he would be the obvious candidate for a fresh face when the beleaguered Samajwadi Party began to look for new representatives. His yen for technological solutions, and image as the clean young politician who enjoys the support of Uttar Pradesh’s youth, continues to sustain his reputation to some extent.
The transformation of caste politics in Uttar Pradesh also threw up a formidable rival to the Samajwadi Party. The Bahujan Samaj Party was founded in 1984 by the Dalit leader Kanshi Ram and led, after his death, by Mayawati, under whose rule the BSP achieved unprecedented electoral success. Between 1995 and 2012, Mayawati served four times as chief minister, the last of these a full five-year term with a single-party majority between 2007 and 2012. (Akhilesh sometimes refers to her as “bua,” or aunt, in conversation with journalists.)
In countering her, Akhilesh came to be the visible face of the Samajwadi Party on the ground, and a viable candidate for the change of guard that the party had come to realise it desperately needed. As a grown-up, he had undergone his own transformation of sorts. He was elected twice to parliament from Kannauj in central Uttar Pradesh, and had become a married man and father. Since 1999, the year he returned to India from Sydney and became an MP, he had largely based himself in Delhi. He made little news other than the odd item in the society pages