The new `behenji'

Published : May 04, 2007 00:00 IST

Mayawati reads from a prepared text at an election rally in Moradabad on April 8.-

Mayawati reads from a prepared text at an election rally in Moradabad on April 8.-

The BSP has been working to a foolproof plan for the past two years and is far ahead of others in the campaign.

"Behenji is miles ahead, in terms of both the pace of electioneering and the impact she is having on the electorate," says Satish Chandra Mishra, the Brahmin face of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), summing up his leader Mayawati's campaign for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Mishra is widely seen as the emerging number two in the organisation.

One may be tempted to perceive a touch of the figurative in Mishra's expression, but for any close observer of the State's election scene, this is as good as a factual statement. Mayawati indeed set the pace by being the first among all parties to finalise candidates for all 403 seats. For nearly 150 seats she had decided the candidates six months before the announcement of elections. Mayawati was also the first off the blocks canvassing for her candidates. Long before the BSP candidates knew who their opponents were, their self-assurance received a boost from one round of campaigning by `Behenji'.

Mayawati maintains this lead in terms of the pace of the campaign. Said Sudhir Goyal, the party's spokesperson and a Rajya Sabha member: "Behenji is one phase ahead of the campaigners of all other parties." When leaders of other parties are campaigning in constituencies that go to polls in the next immediate phase of the seven-phased polls, Mayawati would be campaigning in seats that are to witness polling a couple of phases later. "All this has been possible," Mishra told Frontline, "because we have a well-thought-out plan of action and the party organisation is geared up in full earnest to fulfil the tasks associated with the polls."

Speaking briefly to Frontline in the midst of campaigning, Mayawati said this Assembly election was the single most important item on the BSP's agenda in the past two years and the party worked towards a foolproof election plan over this period. The party refrained from contesting a number of by-elections and the local bodies' elections last year because it was preparing for the Assembly polls. "A plan developed so painstakingly cannot go to waste; it has to work and it will," Mayawati said.

The popular response to Mayawati's campaign endorses this optimism. The BSP leader has been attracting the biggest crowds among all the leaders involved in campaigning. The level of political enthusiasm shown by the crowds has also been the highest at her public meetings.

This correspondent saw one such massive and responsive crowd at Baharaich. Mayawati was nearly an hour late but the crowd kept increasing despite the high-noon heat. Over 60,000 people, more than a third of them women, had gathered in the town's biggest maidan by the time the Dalit leader's helicopter touched down. Her supporters would not let her walk the 50-odd metres from the landing area to the dais and she had to be taken there in a car, escorted by two other vehicles. Party volunteers, dressed in white and blue and armed with lathis, formed a protective ring around the convoy.

From the moment the chopper landed to the time Mayawati ascended the dais, the crowd was on its feet, applauding and shouting slogans. This went on for nearly 10 minutes, until Mayawati ordered them into silence with a firm gesture. "This is a crowd that has sensed that its leadership is within striking distance of major victories," said a former worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was at the meeting.

For a leader who inspired such an awesome public reception replete with emotive displays of adulation, Mayawati's speech was rather staid. She virtually read out from a prepared text, seemingly making no diversions from the document. The ferocious torrent of anti-establishment, anti-upper caste sentiments, which characterised her public presentations until the last Lok Sabha elections, was conspicuous by its absence. This adherence to a prepared text was apparently the result of the planning that had gone into the election campaign.

Last November, immediately after the elections to the local bodies, Mayawati created a stir when she said Muslims as a community were attracted towards terrorism. The vehement reaction from that community forced Mayawati to convene a press conference at 11 in the night to retract the statement and virtually apologise to Muslims. Obviously, Mayawati and her campaign managers did not want such faux pas during the campaign. Reading from a written text may bring down the emotive quotient of the speech, but it certainly ensures a safe, risk-free campaign.

According to a number of second-level BSP leaders belonging to Dalit communities, the self-imposed restraint also showed that Mayawati was skilfully trying to adapt to life after Kanshi Ram, the BSP founder who was her guide and mentor.

In her speech Mayawati presents six major points to explain the BSP's perspective on the elections and emphasise that it is necessary for the party to come to power for the welfare of sarvasamaj (all people in society). The first argument is that "Uttar Pradesh is being ruled by a corrupt and evil government led by the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which has ruined all systems of governance as well as the law and order machinery". "This government has to go if the State is to turn around," says Mayawati. She asserts in the same breath that the efforts of the BJP and the Congress, each presenting itself as an alternative to the S.P., were absolutely misplaced.

"The BJP has, time and again, showed that it has no vision beyond Hindu communalism and the Congress has done nothing for the poor and the downtrodden despite ruling the State and the country for many years. Moreover, the Congress and the BJP have no moral authority to make claims about being an alternative. The Congress helped the S.P. government survive for three years and the BJP has a secret understanding with the S.P. now," she says.

According to her, only the BSP has the moral right, organisational strength and political vision to replace the S.P. "The people of Uttar Pradesh, including a large number of upper-caste members, among them Brahmins particularly, have realised this and are flocking to the BSP," she says. "The party welcomed this turnaround of Brahmins by allotting as many as 86 seats to members of the community. The representation to upper castes in all fora of the BSP would be proportionally increased as and when more upper castes support the party."

Before ending her speech, she exhorts the party's rank and file as well as other people to see to it that the anti-S.P. votes are not split. "There are insincere parties like the Congress and the BJP in the fray as well as smaller non-serious players like the Vishwanath Pratap Singh-led Jan Morcha and Beni Prasad Verma-led Samajwadi Kranti Dal (SKD) and all of them try to bamboozle you claiming to be anti-S.P. Votes that go to these parties will certainly be wasted," she says.

Clearly, the BSP has identified the campaign and the efforts against the splitting of anti-S.P. votes as the final act in its election plan. According to Mishra, the first step in the plan was implemented immediately after the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. The aim was to strengthen Dalit-upper caste unity and this was done by setting up Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara (brotherhood) committees across the State. Mishra added that the work of the bhaichara committees had strengthened over the past three years, and different segments of the election plan were slowly falling into place. Mishra refused to divulge what these segments were but indicated that they were multifaceted.

It is not clear whether infusing democratic values and systems into the party's organisational structure is one of them. However, for the first time second-level leaders, such as Mishra, Goyal and Nasimudeen, have been allowed to embark on independent campaigns for the party. Equally significant, party candidates were allowed to sit on the same dais as Mayawati in many election meetings. Earlier, the position of all leaders other than Mayawati used to be on a lower-level stage or on the ground. All this gives a sense that some changes have occurred and are occurring in the BSP, and by all indications, these modifications could enhance the political and electoral strength of the party.

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