In the upcoming assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, which begins on 11 February, the state’s four-time chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has more at stake than she has had in any poll she has contested before. After a loss in the 2012 assembly elections and an underwhelming performance in the 2014 general elections, her party’s electoral fortunes are at their lowest since the early 2000s, when Mayawati served as chief minister and was seen as a strong contender for the post of prime minister. A defeat in the upcoming election could wreck Mayawati’s career; a victory will forever change India’s politics of the marginalised.
For our February 2017 cover story, “The Mission,” Neha Dixit, reported on Mayawati’s battle for Uttar Pradesh, which she began planning soon after the 2014 election. The cornerstone of the politician’s current strategy, Dixit writes, has been to woo Muslim voters. In the following extract from the story, Dixit reports on the BSP’s strategies for encouraging Muslim voters to back the party, instead of the ruling Samajwadi Party—otherwise seen as the natural choice for the Muslim electorate in UP.
To the BJP, the prospect of a voting bloc of Dalits and Muslims—two groups that are naturally disinclined towards supporting the party—is deeply worrying. As per the 2011 census, Dalits constitute 20.7 percent of the population of Uttar Pradesh and and Muslims 18.5 percent. Together, they make up 39.1 percent of the population—a proportion that, if translated into vote share, is usually enough to ensure a comfortable electoral majority.
To counter this prospect, BJP workers, with the help of RSS cadre, began to hold small meetings in Dalit bastis across the state. Among the messages that the party sought to spread at these meetings was that Ambedkar was anti-Muslim, and that, therefore, Dalits should vote for the BJP, and not the BSP, which was wooing Muslims.
The BSP responded swiftly. “To dispel the myth, the BSP cadre from booth committees mobilised in turn to hold closed-door meetings,” a BSP worker based in Lucknow told me. At these meetings, BSP workers explained to Dalits that the BJP’s claim was untrue, and pointed out that Ambedkar had been elected to the constituent assembly for the first time, in 1946, with the support of a Dalit leader of the Muslim League, Jogendra Nath Mondal. “If the Muslims had not helped Ambedkar, we would have neither got reservation nor dignity in the Indian constitution,” he said.