Political supremos don’t normally introduce blood relations into their party when the chips are down. Jewels in the family crown are brought in when the going is good so that the privileged entrants savour instant success. Had Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati followed the trend, she may have had to wait for long. Not willing to do so, she has brought in her nephew, Akash Kumar, all of 23 years of age, into politics when her party is in doldrums.
Mayawati had been a trenchant critic of dynasty politics, targeting the Samajwadi Party, and the Congress when it suited her. The hint that she was willing to eat her words came when she anointed her brother Anand Kumar a few months ago as the party’s national vice-president. Confirmation that the BSP supremo had given up her anti-dynasty stance came when she brought in the nephew. In fact, a whiff of his arrival was had when he accompanied Mayawati for her visit to Saharanpur in May this year, where clashes had broken out between upper caste members and those of the Scheduled Castes.
It’s true that Anand Kumar has been managing the party’s funding for years from behind the scenes. But his elevation still came as a surprise. On the other hand, Akash Kumar was nowhere in the picture until now. What do these two people bring to the table for the BSP? Pretty little, perhaps, because they are neither grassroots leaders nor networked politicians.
It’s easy to anticipate Mayawati's response to criticism against her decision: ‘When family members of Manuvadi parties occupy high positions, that has somehow become acceptable. But when a Dalit’s daughter (Dalit ki beti) brings in her family into politics, my opponents (who are also anti-Scheduled Castes) cry foul!’ Admittedly, she cannot be accused of having committed a crime. Moreover, Manuvadi or not, quite a few parties across the country, including the supposedly socialist ones, revolve around dynasties. The issue is simply this: Why has Mayawati done it? It cannot have been anything to do with Dalit-empowerment, because there are many Scheduled Caste leaders in her party who could have been given a leg-up.
The answer is that Mayawati has begun to feel insecure. She does not trust even the senior-most leaders and believes that only her family can rescue her from the depths both she and the BSP have fallen to. The party failed to win even a single seat out of the 80 in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Three years down the line in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the BSP ended at a miserable third, with 19 seats out of the 400-plus on offer. If the first defeat was an unmitigated disgrace, the second was a golden opportunity lost. The Samajwadi Party had imploded due to family quarrels and Mayawati had a chance to beat down a limping opponent. But she failed and the SP finished second to the vastly ahead BJP.
Besides, she does not have many senior leaders to fall back upon as quite a few have abandoned the BSP. Over the months, prominent faces such as Swami Prasad Maurya, KK Gautam, Brajesh Pathak and RK Chaudhury have quit. She had sacked her confidant Naseemuddin Siddiqui in May this year on grounds of various complaints levelled by party workers against him. The only leader of stature in the party besides Mayawati is Satish Chandra Mishra, and he may have reasons to feel sidelined if the supremo’s brother and nephew get their act together in the months to come.
If managing the party’s internal affairs has turned out to be difficult for Mayawati, what has worsened the plight is her increasing failure to keep her vote-bank intact. Although the BSP had contested all the seats in the last Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, its vote-share was just 22.2 per cent. In 2012, the party had secured 80 seats with a vote-share of over 25 per cent. When it had won the Assembly election in 2007 and Mayawati became the Chief Minister, the BSP’s vote-share was at an impressive 30 per cent plus (with 206 seats).
There is no clarity over how Mayawati hopes to win back the non-Jatav community from the among the Scheduled Castes which have switched largely to the BJP. Besides, even its traditional Jatav votes have been fragmented, though not to the extent the non-Jatav ones have. In any case, Mayawati’s comeback is next to impossible on the strength of just the Scheduled Caste votes, even if the community votes as one in her favour. The BSP’s 2007 victory became possible because a significant chunk of the Muslims and the upper castes too had backed her.
Yet, there could be gains with the arrival of the nephew if the BSP plays its cards well. Akash Kumar must seek to reform the party from within by making it more media savvy, reaching out to the youth, and revamping its messaging. The constant ‘Dalit ki beti being victimised’ refrain must end and be replaced by a more inclusive social platform —something that party founder Kanshi Ram had originally begun with.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and public affairs analyst)
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