Maya’s fading magic

‘Not many imagined that a young girl who hated the upper castes would go so far in politics. We did not take her seriously then,’ remarks a local who has seen Mayawati’s rise 

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi/Bijnor 

You go to Bijnor and you will find that people of the area are so angry with the Mayawati regime. In the last elections we made her win all the seven seats, and see what she has done for us. Absolutely nothing!” a man selling tea on a cart in Jamia Nagar, a Muslim ghetto in Delhi, remarked as he poured tea into cheap, disposable plastic cups.

In Bijnor, 150kms away from the capital, the mood was no different. The last election was all about Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). With the Sarvajan Hitay plank, bagging even the ‘Savarna’ votes – otherwise said to be averse to seeing a Dalit as their leader – through what she calls ‘social engineering’, she actually pulled a miracle of sorts. 

The magic worked and she bagged a good 213 of the total 403 assembly seats in the state, a good 11 more than the required majority. In Bijnor alone, voters in all the seven constituencies voted for the party with the elephant symbol. 

In fact, Bijnor is the city from where Mayawati had started her political journey. People recall how she would come asking for votes in hawai chappals and a modest salwar kameez, not the designer shoes and clothes she wears now. She fought that election against stalwarts like Ram Vilas Paswan and Meira Kumar. Then she was known as ‘Behan Kumari Mayawati Advocate’. “Not many imagined that a young girl who hated the upper castes would go so far in politics. We did not take her seriously then,” remarks a local who has seen Mayawati’s rise. Locals remember how she would address the Dalits in predominantly Dalit ghettos and ask the upper castes to leave the meeting, warning them that they might not like what she was going to say. 

Post BSP’s sweep in the last elections, with much hullabaloo Bijnor was declared a ‘VIP’ district. The promised sops included a multi-speciality hospital and 24-hour uninterrupted power supply among other things. 

The magic, however, seems to be waning in this election. With the promises yet to be implemented, most people in the region are anything but happy with her style of governance. And the opposition parties
seem to have got their finger on the  electorate’s pulse. 

In the city where she started her political journey, Mayawati’s fortunes this time rest on which way  Muslim voters will turn

“Initially I was thinking this area doesn’t hold much promise for us. But now when I visited the villages and small towns, the response we got is really encouraging,” Akhilesh Yadav, heir apparent of the Samajwadi Party (SP), told Hardnews. A bastion of BSP and Lok Dal, this region, with a sizeable Jat population, has not been very generous to SP lately. However, the equation seems to be changing and this election might see a change in the Lohiaites’ fortunes. 

In Bijnor for the last leg of the first phase of his Kranti Rath Yatra, Yadav aggressively attacked the Mayawati regime, calling it a dictatorship. He appealed to the minorities to look back and see what the BSP government has really done for them in terms of employment opportunities, and even requested the women to vote for Ruchi Vira, SP’s candidate from Bijnor. At the Ramlila ground where this meeting took place, a modest crowd had gathered despite the freezing cold and a
rain shower. 

In Chandpur, another constituency almost 30kms from the district headquarters, the mood was more upbeat. As the cavalcade passed through sugarcane fields, a rush of supporters greeted it at every few kilometres. “This regime has not done justice even to the farmers. Sugar mills have been sold to private players for a song. It was Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) who got two sugar mills to this district,” Yadav told Hardnews. At a meeting in the town, Yadav again spoke of how the Mayawati regime has been using brute force and the police against SP cadres. “There is not even a single man or woman who has not been subjected to harassment by this regime,” he said at the well-attended rally. Some elderly Jats, though, rued the fact that Akhilesh was not as “aggressive” as his father. 

SP candidate from the constituency, Sherbaz Khan, is in prison on charges that his family and supporters say are politically motivated. He faces more than ten cases, and each time he is released on bail, a new case is slapped on him. “It is because of his opposition to BSP’s minister and local MLA Iqbal Thekedar that he is in jail,” a local supporter told this reporter. His burqa-clad wife campaigns for him in his absence. 

However, with more than one Muslim candidate in the fray, it might just work wonders for BJP. “At least in Chandpur and Bijnor, chances are BJP’s candidate will win comfortably this time,” an MP told Hardnews. In Bijnor, both BSP and RLD have fielded Muslim candidates. 

RLD’s candidate, Shahnawaz Rana, the sitting MLA who, till recently, was with BSP is battling his own set of woes. “The Jat voters are not going to vote for him. They feel that Ajeet Singh has sold this seat,” said Vikas Chaudhary. Jats are unhappy over why a Muslim, and that too someone from the neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, was given the ticket. Rana was suspended from BSP due to the criminal cases against him. 

Vira, too, is looking up to the Muslim electorate. “I have been getting a warm reception,” she told Hardnews. “The only way BJP can lose the seat is if the Muslim votes get polarised,” says a local. With her Dalit vote bank intact, Mayawati’s fortunes, too, rest on which way the Muslim voters turn.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2012

#Tags: