Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, in Lucknow, on Jan. 12, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

Dear Akhilesh, Introduce Rahul/Priyanka To Deputy PM Mayawati

BloombergQuintOpinion

Two powerful women politicians joined (or could join) Twitter within four weeks of each other. One a grizzled veteran of four decades, the other a debutante. So why am I lumping them together here? Because they could deliver a shock to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in less than 100 days.

Dear Akhilesh, Introduce Rahul/Priyanka To Deputy PM Mayawati

I hate to say “I told you so”, but another part of me loves to show off too (I am only human!). Exactly one year ago, in February 2018, I had written as follows:

Now her political resurgence would be nothing short of miraculous. In 2014, the Modi wave had decimated the Bahujan Samaj Party, leaving Mayawati without a seat in Lok Sabha. Even as the Samajwadi Party (five seats) and Congress (two seats from Amethi and Rae Bareilly) had held on to their bastions, Mayawati had crumbled without a trace. But three years later, in the ‘Modi, Shah and belatedly Yogi Adityanath’ tsunami of 2017, even as her tally plummeted to just 19 seats in the assembly, her vote share stayed at a robust 22.23 percent. And six months later, in the local body polls, she actually won mayoral seats from Aligarh and Meerut.

So this conclusion is inescapable: if U.P. does see an unprecedented one-on-one contest between NDA and a freshly-minted Mayawati+SP+Congress alliance, NDA’s country-wide tally could drop to 200-220 (BJP alone could fall to 170-200), putting UPA+Mamata+DMK within striking distance of the majority mark of 272 in Lok Sabha in 2019.

The arithmetic may be irrefutable, but Mayawati is not. She is unpredictable. Remember what she did on April 17, 1999? She committed to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the morning that she would support him against the no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha. Vajpayee relaxed and proclaimed his victory. But just a few hours out, on the floor of the house, she did an audacious political somersault and voted against the government. When the final votes were counted, it was 270 to 269, against the government. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had lost by an unprecedented single vote.

How do you fathom the mind of a nondescript school teacher who became the first Dalit woman chief minister of India’s largest state?

Women at a Bahujan Samaj Party rally. (Source: PTI)
Women at a Bahujan Samaj Party rally. (Source: PTI)

Mayawati Passes Baton To Akhilesh Yadav

Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I can fathom her strategy. She has deliberately planted herself in mid-track, tying up a formidable alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. On that, she has followed the above script. But she refused to pass the baton to the Congress. Her logic was intelligent:

  • With a weak leadership in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress could never convince its committed voters to transfer en bloc to her Bahujan Samaj Party; if anything, non-Muslim Congress supporters would drift towards the BJP.
  • Astutely, she knows that it will be almost impossible to form a stable government in 2019 without her MPs, whether in an NDA-led, UPA-led, or Federal Front-led coalition. At the very least, depending on her winning numbers, she could bargain for becoming the Deputy Prime Minister. For those who are scoffing, see how Chaudhary Charan Singh and Devi Lal made it in the Janata governments.

So now the baton is with Akhilesh Yadav. What should he do? Just hold it in his hand, and allow UP to become a 3-track race?

Or has the mantle of ‘principal Modi vanquisher’ now passed on from Mayawati to Akhilesh?
 Akhilesh Yadav after greeting Mayawati on her  birthday in Lucknow, on  Jan 15, 2019. (Photographer: Nand Kumar/PTI)
Akhilesh Yadav after greeting Mayawati on her birthday in Lucknow, on Jan 15, 2019. (Photographer: Nand Kumar/PTI)

Especially since, after Rahul Gandhi’s emphatic three-state election victories, and the electrifying induction of Priyanka Gandhi in East UP, an entirely new political alchemy is possible.

Akhilesh’s 10-Slug PowerPoint Presentation To Mayawati

In fact, Akhilesh Yadav’s challenge now is to request for a Chai Pe Charcha (conversation over tea, made into an iconic political manoeuver by Modi in 2014) with the lady he fondly calls bua (aunt). And he should go armed with the following Ten Political Facts:

  1. 2014 was a black swan election, so should not ignore the lessons of 2009: when Congress had won 21 seats (ahead of BSP and BJP, but just a whisker behind SP) with a 20 percent vote share.
  2. Congress had recovered 6 percentage points (from 7 percent in 2014) even before Priyanka’s induction: every vote-count, from the urban elections of 2017 or recent poll surveys, shows the Congress vote at over 12 percent in UP. After Priyanka has taken charge of East UP, this could conceivably swell right back to the 20 percent logged in 2009. So it’s critical to read the chai patti (tea leaves) of that election.
  3. Congress footprint in Awadh: Even in the decimation of 2014, Congress got nearly 18 percent of the vote. Besides Rae Bareli and Amethi, they could be strong in Pratapgarh, Unnao, Barabanki, Faizabad, and Khushinagar.
  4. Congress strength in 28 seats: these are where it either won in 2009, or retained a 10 percent plus vote share in the face of Modi’s tsunami in 2014. In any fair negotiation, these pockets of Congress strength must be acknowledged, rather than dismissed rudely.
  5. Congress had made big gains among Kurmis in 2009: between 2007 to 2009, its biggest gains came from Kurmis (up 22 percent); remember, Congress can now showcase Bhupendra Singh Baghel, its Kurmi Chief Minister of Chhatisgarh. These things matter in Indian politics.
  6. Congress had also won over several other voting blocks in 2009: upper castes (up 19 percent), Brahmins (up 13 percent) and 11 percent each among Muslims, non-Jatav SCs and Jats. Realistically, some of these gains could revert under a strengthening Rahul/Priyanka dispensation.
  7. Muslim voters will rejoice at an SP+BSP+Congress coalition: that 20 percent block alone could change the game. And once you add Dalits, Yadavs, Kurmis, upper castes, you’re staring at a possible landslide.
  8. Women and young voters are very elastic: all evidence shows that these blocks are quite flexible and prone to experimenting with new political formations, as opposed to older male supporters. Already, the woman turnout is higher than male voters in UP. See what a 4-face-poster, with you/Priyanka/Rahul/I, could do!
  9. India Today & C-Voter Polls Predict BJP’s annihilation: both are showing a 50 percent plus vote share for the mahagathbandhan (big alliance) in UP, with the BJP trailing 10-15 percentage points behind. The India Today poll actually stretches its neck out to say it will be a scintillating 75-to-5 tally in our favour!
  10. An MP in hand is better than two in the bush: finally, bua, if Congress fights separately, both of us could win about 22-25 seats apiece; but if we give them a respectable 22-odd seats to fight on, we will be assured of 30 seats each!
Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav addresses a press conference in Agra. (Source: PTI)
Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav addresses a press conference in Agra. (Source: PTI)

Q&A In The Final Chai Pe Charcha

I am sure Mayawati will listen intently to what Akhilesh has to say. And with the last sip of tea, will ask “how can you ensure that the Congress will transfer its votes to you and me?”

I am even more sure that Akhilesh will answer this cannily: “Just like you and I manage to do it. Voters always follow strong and winning leaders; unlike before, the Congress has got Rahul and Priyanka who will say ‘when you vote for our partners, you are actually voting for us’. Simple. Earlier, the Congress was not believed. Now it shall be.”

What will be Mayawati’s response? It’s a billion-vote question.

Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.