Mayawati, chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party, notoriously short-tempered and with a proclivity for outbursts, has maintained an unusual phlegmatic silence on the plight and exodus of migrants from the big cities back to their villages.
Instead, the 64-year-old former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh chose to speak on Monday on the Ladakh face-off with China. She made her support clear for the centre - and came out strongly against the Congress, accusing it of doing so little for development and lifting weaker sections of society that workers from states like UP had no choice but to move to cities in search of jobs.
Though she said her party is not an ally of the BJP, she said the politics between the PM's party and the Congress do a disservice to national security and could be leveraged by China.
She also retaliated to a charge made days ago by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra that "some opposition leaders in UP are acting like spokespersons for the BJP." Priyanka Gandhi Vadra ("PGV") is from the First Family of the Congress and tasked with building its strength in India's most-populous state.
Mayawati was sharp in her response. She said she supports the centre (as opposed to pledging support for the army, like many other opposition parties). And she launched a direct attack on "Congress failures". All this puts her on the same side as Yogi Adityanath, her biggest rival for the UP sweepstakes.
After the Mayawati endorsement, which left other leaders stunned and the BJP smiling, PGV took on Behen-ji, as Mayawati is known. On Twitter (the preferred political playground in the corona pandemic), PGV said that Mayawati is in league with the BJP and that "There is no point in standing with any political party at this time. Every Indian should stand with the country and sovereignty of our nation."
An angry Mayawati then got her national spokesman Sudhindra Bhadoria to yesterday slam PGV as "immature" and "childish" for her attack on Mayawati.
The UP elections are still two years away but the rivalry between PGV and Mayawati is showing an exponential growth curve. And it is the BJP which is benefiting from the big fight between the two women leaders. Especially because in the four-cornered fight that is UP politics, Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party, is also silent on the migrants' suffering. He is watching the battle between Priyanka Gandhi and Mayawati with avid interest - both have been his allies. Akhilesh Yadav, who too has served as Chief Minister of UP, is also mending fences in his own family, trying to reconcile with uncle Shivpal Yadav.
Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of UP, has taken to expending all his fire power to attack the Congress party and PGV. These days, "Maharaj", as Yogi is called by the state bureaucracy, does not say a word on the two regional leaders - Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.
The Yogi vs PGV burn has been anything but slow in recent weeks. When PGV arranged buses to bring migrants back to Uttar Pradesh, Yogi and Co presented impossible conditions to utilize them. Then, Ajay Singh Lallu, the chief of the Congress in the state, was arrested for several weeks.
Even at that time, Mayawati had stuck her oar in to belittle the Congress.
Mayawati formed the government in UP in 1995 with BJP support, melding together Dalit votes with those of upper caste Brahmins. PGV is eyeing the same combo to revive the Congress in UP. PGV has consciously limited herself to being a UP leader to ensure there is no danger of being seen as treading on any turf of brother Rahul Gandhi, the party's "national leader".
Mayawati is hugely territorial about her vote bank and has since January this year targeted PGV. In January, she said PGV sheds "crocodile tears" over every tragedy in UP but was blind to the deaths of 100 infants at a Kota hospital in Rajasthan, which is governed by the Congress. In February, Mayawati went full throttle again attacking PGV for "drama" in visiting a temple in Varanasi that honours poet-saint Ravidas, a Dalit icon.
In another pointed snub, Mayawati refused to attend the all-party meeting in May hosted by PGV's mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to discuss the Covid-19 crisis. A senior leader of BSP says that Mayawati has a personal dislike of PGV who she finds "shrill" especially when compared to the conciliatory leadership skills of Sonia Gandhi.
It suits Mayawati to cosy up to the BJP in order to keep doors open for an alliance as her party is practically imploding. The repeated "nudges" from central investigation agencies also help keep most leaders in line. Mayawati is named in a large case of corruption which appears to be dialed up or down at the whim of the Modi government.
PGV feels that she can rebuild the Congress which has vanished from the ground of UP with aggressive tactics against all major regional players there. Last week, she declared that as the granddaughter of Indira Gandhi, she fears no persecution and will not be bullied into keeping silent on alleged transgressions by Yogi's government.
The jury is out on the efficacy of citing grandparents in a real-time political fight but it is of considerable significance that a state as patriarchal as Uttar Pradesh is the sprawling hood of two women leaders battling it out.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.