The Mission

Inside Mayawati’s battle for Uttar Pradesh

A defeat in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly election could wreck Mayawati’s career; a victory will forever change India’s politics of the marginalised. PTI
01 February, 2017

MAYAWATI SAT IN THE LIVING ROOM of her Delhi residence, on Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Road, her eyes fixed on a television screen. A sense of gloom pervaded the house. It was the afternoon of 16 May 2014, the day that votes were to be counted for the sixteenth general election, and the news was dismal for her Bahujan Samaj Party. The BSP’s electoral fortunes, it appeared, had been crushed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, which looked set to win by a comfortable majority.

She noticed a stain on the white towel draped over the back of the sofa on which she sat. Summoning one of her housekeepers, Mayawati scolded her for the oversight. The towel was changed immediately. “She is finicky about cleanliness,” a top-rung BSP leader who was with her that day told me. “Gets the house mopped thrice a day.”

Mayawati complained that the room was not cool enough and looked around for the remote to the air conditioner. “All remotes—TV, air conditioning—have to be laid down neatly on the centre table,” the leader told me. “The AC remote was missing that day.” Mayawati’s housekeeping staff got another scolding, after which the remote was located and brought back to the table. For the next few hours, as the results unfolded, her staff and party colleagues tiptoed around her.

By 4 pm, the verdict was clear: though the BSP had won 4.2 percent of the national vote share, placing it behind only the BJP and the Congress, that respectable tally had not translated to it winning a single seat anywhere in the country. The vote had delivered no executive power or legislative influence to the party. The BSP had come up empty-handed even in its stronghold, Uttar Pradesh, where it finished second in 33 of 80 seats. It was the worst-ever defeat for the party, which had won at least a few seats in every general election since 1989, the year it first contested one.