Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has held the post of Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh twice in the past, on both occasions with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The first time, in June 1995, she was dumped by the BJP. The second time, on the eve of the transfer of chief ministership to Kalyan Singh of the BJP under a rotational arrangement between the two coalition partners at the end of her six-month tenure in September 1997, Mayawati withdrew support to the BJP. Later, in 1999, she deluded the BJP into believing that she would abstain from voting when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee faced a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha. She voted against the government, which resulted in its fall. However, the BJP is still willing to do business with her in Uttar Pradesh. Despite her previous understanding with the BJP, the Muslims of U.P. have reposed faith in her, and this partly explains the election of 98 of her candidates in the February Assembly elections. Mayawati has single-handedly steered the party to new heights in U.P., continuously increasing her vote and seat share. How did she manage it? The firebrand BSP vice-president spoke to Purnima S. Tripathi on March 7. Excerpts:
What is the secret of your performance in Uttar Pradesh, especially in view of the fact that your party did not have any film stars or other charismatic leaders campaigning for it?
I have really worked hard for my people. I have nurtured my constituency with great care. They (voters) have absolute faith in me. They know whatever I do will be for their good. Yes, I did not have film stars or charismatic leaders campaigning for me, but I knew I will still have my people voting for me. It is the result of my long years of association with them. They trust me.
But what about Muslims? What made them trust you in spite of the fact that you have joined hands with the BJP twice in the past to form the government?
I have never compromised on ideology and principles. Despite being Chief Minister with BJP support, I ensured that there was no discrimination against Muslims. I never allowed any harm to come to them. I did not allow anyone to play around with their religious feelings. Muslims know their interest is safe with me. And I would still have proved it if I was there as Chief Minister today. Had it been my government, I would have shown how to handle the situation. (The reference is to the build-up in Ayodhya.)
You have resigned from the Lok Sabha and retained your Assembly seat. Does it mean that you are hopeful of forming the government in the State?
Obviously. If you remember, I was made the Chief Minister during President's Rule last time too. I am going to Lucknow to discuss the situation with my MLAs, and any decision I take will be in the interest of the BSP.
Does it mean you will form the government with the BJP's support?
Wait and see. I will disclose my plans only after I have discussed them with the MLAs. But let me tell you one thing, if there is a government formed in Uttar Pradesh it will be led by me.
Will you accept the offer of support from the Samajwadi Party or the Congress(I)?
No, never. I will neither accept support from the Samajwadi Party nor support it in government formation. As for the Congress(I), it is in no position to help anyone. Besides, if I considered the Congress(I) as a friendly party I would have contested the elections with them.
There is considerable communal tension in the country because of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ayodhya programme. Don't you think the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government is responsible for this as it has taken a lenient view of the VHP's activities?
It is the Congress(I) which is primarily responsible for the Ayodhya problem. Its government allowed the unlocking (of the Babri Masjid), it allowed the shilanyas, it allowed the demolition. It is the real culprit.
Do you think the BJP government in Gujarat is responsible for the communal riots there? The Opposition parties have demanded the resignation of Home Minister L.K. Advani and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
Let there be a high-level inquiry first into the Godhra incident and the reaction afterwards. We must first know who is responsible for these incidents before making any demands.
There have been demands to ban the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Do you support this demand?
There should be an all-party meeting before any such organisation is banned. I had said the same thing when SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) was banned too.
Do you support the ongoing efforts by the Kanchi Shankaracharya to resolve the Ayodhya problem?
If a solution through mutual consent is found, we shall welcome it. It is a good thing. If a temple is built on the undisputed area in Ayodhya after all the parties, including Muslims, agree, then we don't have any objection. But we are for awaiting the court verdict on the disputed land.
Are you not afraid of another split in your party?
(Laughs) This time I have taken adequate care. I called each one of them (MLAs) and asked them personally. Some of them said instead they could get MLAs for me from other parties.
Which parties do you hope to split in order to form the government?I do not believe in tod-fod (splitting).
How do you plan to form the government then since you do not have the numbers?
Wait and see. I cannot tell you at this stage. But I am going to form the government very soon.