New Delhi: Mayawati, for good reason, gives as little confidence as Mamata Bannerjee as prime minister candidate for 2019. This is not to suggest that she stands no chance to occupy the corner room in South Block. If the general election produces a hung parliament, Mayawati with her MPs from Uttar Pradesh and two other Hindi-belt states would become a leading contender. If the Bharatiya Janata Party does not pre-empt the Congress by supporting her from the outside (whose support she will happily take), the GOP very likely would prop up her government in alliance with other like-minded parties. It would be a repetition of the Karnataka experiment with the added similarity that the Congress and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party are not contesting elections as allies.

And yet, Mayawati is not a natural choice for prime minister as some others might be. A good test is to suggest her as the opposition alliance’s prime minister candidate for the general election. In that case, the opposition and she would do poorly and it would be a shot in the arm for Narendra Modi’s otherwise dismal prospects. It is often forgotten that Mayawati has been a full-term chief minister (of Uttar Pradesh) only once out of four outings and she needs an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party to contain the BJP’s dreaded rise in the state. Mayawati touched a high-water mark between 2007-2009 when she led her own government in Uttar Pradesh and took twenty Lok Sabha seats (plus one from Madhya Pradesh). In the 2014 election, the BSP crashed to zero.

An inconsistent performance robs a leader of political weight. There are several reasons for Mayawati’s inconsistency. Foremost, she will not serve under another. She has to be head of government or nothing. One could argue that her obduracy has paid fruit with four terms as Uttar Pradesh chief minister. But aside from monuments to Dalit icons (including herself) and the Yamuna Expressway, Mayawati’s claim to fame are the CBI cases slapped on her which make her nationally subservient to the Bharatiya Janata Party. If she had sought to change the narrative in 2007-12 and willed the state to grow as much as Bihar has prospered under Nitish Kumar, her national claims would have been received with urgency and enthusiasm. To be sure, Uttar Pradesh grew at a faster pace under Mayawati than her successor and present alliance partner, Akhilesh Yadav, but she never made development and progress key mantras like Nitish did. Preoccupied with caste questions, carving districts to be named after Dalit notables, concentrating on her community to the exclusion of others, pushing for private sector reservations ultimately overruled by the Supreme Court, and so forth, Mayawati squandered the golden opportunity of gaining her own majority government.

Furthermore, Mayawati shares absent politico-economic depth with Mamata and several other regional leaders and indeed, too, the BJP leadership represented by Narendra Modi. Basing her politics on Dalit mobilization, she perhaps had no utility for the archetypal Congress mainstream political leadership feeling at home with liberality, intellectuality and technocracy. Learning after three foreshortened terms as chief minister that pure Dalit mobilization would not take her far, she abandoned anti-Brahmin politics and was rather out on a limb wooing Uttar Pradesh’s forward castes. There lay the genesis of the party slogan, “Haathi nahin, Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu Mahesh hai.” Having come to power, however, she could not take the rainbow coalition forward. Like Nitish Kumar in Bihar, she repaired the law and order situation after years of Samajwadi Party thuggery in Uttar Pradesh, but she built nothing memorable on the foundation. That first full term of Mayawati lived for her and died unmourned. Narendra Modi might well end up sharing History’s disastrous judgement of Mayawati.

In sum, there is little to recommend Mayawati for prime ministership. It is sad that Mayawati has become a prisoner of electoral math. Beyond the number of Lok Sabha seats she may win in Uttar Pradesh (the outcome less certain than before with the spectacular entry of Priyanka Gandhi) and neighbouring states, there is no special value attached to her. She has become a prisoner of her own politics. Unfortunate as this is for her, it is probably worse for her community. Time and again, Uttar Pradesh Dalits have voted for whichever non-Dalit political party Mayawati has instructed them to, but a vote transfer in reverse has rarely benefitted Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party. It is arguable if forward caste voters would ever entirely accept her to root for her progress to New Delhi but Mayawati is also to blame in no small measure. Practicing untouchability of another kind, she felt lowered to serve under another. This brought her partial success in Uttar Pradesh but it is not nearly enough to make the steep climb to Raisina Hill. Mayawati’s luck may still turn months from now but it would be highly surprising, all the same, if she becomes prime minister. Rating: three out of 10.

To be continued...

Please read “2019”and “2019 - 2” here and here.