Yogi's Touching Concern For Mayawati Betrays Anxiety

Amit Shah, chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won his grudge match ably assisted by Piyush Goyal, union minister who he stationed in Lucknow against "Bua" and "Bhatija" (BSP chief, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the SP) by snatching a Rajya Sabha seat to make up for the stinging defeat of the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls earlier this month.

With yesterday's Rajya Sabha wins across the country, the BJP will now be the single-largest party in the Upper House and hopeful of more parliamentary business being transacted. But the key takeaway from UP remains what Satish Mishra, key Mayawati aide, said post the results being announced: "BJP proved that it is an anti-Dalit party, it prevented Bhim Rao Ambedkar from entering the Rajya Sabha by using money and muscle power. The BSP, SP and Congress alliance delivered".

So the tenuous alliance between the two regional heavyweights, which Shah and Yogi Adityanath correctly sense the danger of, remains intact. Instead of gloating over their hotly-contested victory last night, Adityanath publicity warned Mayawati about the "treachery" of the SP and how "Yadav could never transfer votes to her". Touching concern for a bitter rival, you might say, but also revelatory of the BJP's persistent migraine about the opposition alliance cutting in to UP's 80 seats and impeding the BJP's smooth return to Delhi. Last time around, the BJP managed 73 of the 80 seats in the state and Shah and Yogi are desperate for a re-run.
 
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Mayawati's party BSP supported Akhilesh Yadav's SP in the Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha by-elections

The public posturing after the results is the position the two rivals are going to take. Bua and Bhatija will milk "Ambedkar's defeat at the hands of Aggarwal" engineered by the BJP and the party's upper caste bent while underscoring that the BJP chose a Thakur, Adityanath, to head the state. In caste-obsessed UP, Yogi's supposed favouring of his caste in the administration is already becoming the stuff of legends in just a year of his government. The encounter spree he has unleashed is also upsetting the lower castes and Muslims who see it as an extra- constitutional assertion of caste hegemony. Adityanath has posted a large number of upper caste officials to let post, perhaps because of his lack of any administrative experience, and even the RSS has asked him to reset the delicate caste balance ahead of the general elections. A Shah-dictated cabinet reshuffle in UP is also on the cards to give more representation to lower castes.

Yogi's warning to Mayawati was echoed by on-cue moaning from embedded analysts who claimed that Mayawati was "upset" that while her vote bank was transferable (in helping Akhilesh Yadav to win the Gorakhpur election, for example), he was not able to return the favour for her in the Rajya Sabha election. The BJP's social media army was trending hashtags all of last night to drive a wedge between the alliance partners.

However, the reality is that the SP and Congress did manage to transfer all their second preference votes to Mayawati. She was let down by her own legislator, Anil Singh, who cross- voted, and the fact that her jailed legislator Mukhtar Ansari and SP's Hari Om Yadav could not vote. Further, Nitin Agrawal, an SP lawmaker whose father Naresh just defected to the BJP, voted for the BJP candidate. Mayawati's old enemy, don Raja Bhaiyya who she had jailed in 2003, kept his word to Yadav and voted for the SP but not the BSP. After voting, he also made a "courtesy call" to fellow Thakur Adityanath, reiterating the primacy of caste politics in UP.
 
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Mayawati's old enemy, don Raja Bhaiyya who she had jailed in 2003, kept his word to Akhilesh Yadav and voted for the SP

So Shah's plans to ensure that the alliance hit the hump of defeat did not entirely work. The Congress, which has managed to hang on to a core voter base of 10 per cent in UP despite showing no electoral gains recently, has also now smoothly veered into the regional alliance. Mayawati has realised that allying with her old enemy, the SP, is the only way to take on the BJP. Yadav Junior has always been keen on the alliance and this time around even persuaded recalcitrant uncle Shiv Pal Yadav to get on board. The fractious feud in the Yadav family appears to have been buried, much to the misery of the BJP, which was assiduously fanning the flames of the rift. Two senior BJP leaders recently met Mulayam Singh and Shivpal to keep at this, but to no avail.

The Congress perhaps surprised even itself with its deft management in Karnataka, Jharkhand, Bihar and UP and kept its flock together. No Congress MLA cross-voted despite many attempts at poaching, surely an indicator of the way the political wind is blowing. All three Congress candidates won in Karnataka where it got seven opposition members to cross vote for it.

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Shah knows that he demonstrated agile politics in snatching one extra Rajya Sabha seat in UP but it cannot be compared to the Gorakhpur debacle where the alliance showcased a strong political message. The fact that the BJP lost the parliamentary constituencies of Adityanath and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, is not lost on the UP electorate which still delights in political strongmen.

The political score at half time is one all for Bua-Bhatija and the BJP. Look for things to get ugly.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

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