The world this year has witnessed many unexpected situations unfold, and the world of politics is no different. The bonhomie at display between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati—hugging each other on stage at the swearing-in ceremony of then Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy in May 2018—has turned into a turf war for Uttar Pradesh where Mayawati and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are at loggerheads.
Mayawati’s new-found strategy
Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is facing an identity crisis, but the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister refuses to go down—despite no second rung of leadership in sight—without a fight. She’s chosen Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the object of her wrath to change her political fortunes. Attacking the top Congress leader from Gandhi family, in a way, makes her an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and also gives political observers the chance to analyse her past association with the BJP. Mayawati had taken the BJP’s support, which essentially holds the upper caste Hindu vote bank in the state, to form government in Uttar Pradesh in 1995.
With the BSP’s dismal performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Mayawati quickly accepted the dominance of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. She didn’t squeak a word of displeasure when BJP usurped BSP’s 2007 slogan of ‘Sarvajan Hitay Sarvajan Sukhay’ (for the welfare of one an all). The slogan is significant because Mayawati won the 2007 Uttar Pradesh assembly election by bringing the Brahmin and Dalit voters together. Priyanka Gandhi, too, is out to woo the same voter base. Mayawati feels the competition, and is therefore, not letting go any opportunity to attack Priyanka Gandhi.
Be it her soft stance at all-party meeting on the Modi government’s handling of the LAC crisis with China, or her praise for the Uttar Pradesh government’s efforts to bring back labourers, Mayawati is cosying up to the BJP.
That’s not all. Mayawati chose to stay away from the all-party meet that Congress President Sonia Gandhi had convened in May to discuss the Covid-19 situation.
Priyanka knows it too
Seen in the context of a future alliance with the BJP, all this makes perfect sense. BSP is trying to halt Congress from making significant inroads in Uttar Pradesh under the leadership of Priyanka Gandhi.
And Priyanka Gandhi realises this all too well. Last week, while responding to the Uttar Pradesh government’s notice to her over her comments alleging that two girls were found pregnant at a child shelter home in the state, Priyanka Gandhi asserted she is “Indira Gandhi’s granddaughter” and won’t shy away from speaking the truth against the Yogi government, unlike some “undeclared BJP spokesperson like some of the opposition leaders”. This was a veiled attack on Mayawati.
Priyanka Gandhi’s optics of gender is also playing out well. Till now, Mayawati was the only powerful female leader in Uttar Pradesh setting things straight in a state that’s infamous for its patriarchy. But now, there’s Priyanka Gandhi too, who is not only taking to the streets, going house-to-house to meet people, but is also dodging cops to show her fearlessness while reaching out to the people to gain some brownie points. In December last year, Priyanka gave the Uttar Pradesh police some anxious moments when she met retired IPS officer S.R. Darapuri, arrested in Lucknow for his participation in anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
Priyanka had in August last year staged a dharna after she was stopped from meeting the Sonbhadra massacre victims. She wears her fierceness and challenges her rivals with aplomb. On being asked if the Yogi government was threatened by her on-ground presence, she had categorically stated that “Everybody’s politics is in danger.” That “everybody” includes Mayawati.
Digging up old graves
Mayawati has gone full throttle in calling out Priyanka Gandhi every time she moves a muscle. In January, she accused the latter of shedding “crocodile tears”, saying that she visits every other place in Uttar Pradesh, but has no time to see the situation in Congress-ruled Rajasthan. She was referring to the death of 110 infants at a government hospital in Kota.
In February, Mayawati again attacked Priyanka’s “theatrics” and her visit to the Ravidas temple in Varanasi. She said that the Congress had never honoured Ravidas during its rule in Uttar Pradesh.
The new-found rivalry has continued even during the pandemic. When Priyanka Gandhi offered 1,000 buses to the Uttar Pradesh government to ferry stranded labourers back home, Mayawati was quick to pin the blame of the migrant distress on Congress, saying its previous governments had not developed rural areas of the state, leading to the migration of farmers, dalits and tribals to big cities in search of livelihoods.
It isn’t hard to decode Mayawati’s political messaging when seen in the context of the BJP’s statements, which had also attacked the Congress for its past failures.
This political one-upmanship only led to further pain for stranded labourers when the Uttar Pradesh government refused to use most of the buses offered by the Congress, declaring them unfit for travel. This, while migrants were hiding in crammed trucks and cement mixers to reach home.
The Uttar Pradesh assembly election is another two years away and the political development there is anyone’s guess. But Mayawati’s special attention to Priyanka Gandhi is indicative that Priyanka is doing something right, politically of course.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel.