In politics – as in everyday life – it is prudent to always downplay your setbacks in order to move on. And no one has done it any better than Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, in the last few years.
Always the one for complete confidentiality and an over-confident demeanor, she has braved many a crisis in the last four years, while never appearing to be shaken or cornered. But the sudden departure of her most trusted associate, Swami Prasad Maurya, has unnerved her to the extent that she not only levelled all sorts of allegations against him, but for the first time, referred to the practice of “collective decision-making” in her party.Her admission at the press meet immediately after Maurya announced his decision was surprising, since all decisions in the BSP, so far, had always been referred to in the first person by Mayawati.
Maurya, the Leader of Opposition in the UP Assembly, is a grassroots level politician who was responsible for the success of several big-ticket events in the BSP, and had been in the party since 1996. Prior to that, he had been with the Lok Dal and the Janata Dal. At present, he is an MLA from Padrauna, and has also been a minister in subsequent governments headed by Mayawati.
He wields considerable influence among the most backward Maurya community in eastern UP. However, events of the last few years indicate that the BSP has not been too accommodating towards the MBCs and many of them have quit the party – or have been expelled from it – citing their marginalization.
This section accounts for about 4 percent of the OBC vote share, which is politically important for all parties. For Maurya, the BJP too could have been a destination but the party already has the community covered with their newly-appointed state president Keshav Maurya.
There are indications now that Swami Prasad Maurya may join the Samajwadi Party, and be rewarded with a ministerial berth as well.
It is certainly a setback for the BSP’s preparations ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, as it is a first in the state that the leader of a legislative party has quit the party itself amidst a flurry of allegations.
Insiders indicate that a section of BSP leaders had been questioning his ability ever since the party lost the 2012 Assembly election, followed by the debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. He had then been removed from the post of state party president, and replaced by Ram Achal Rajbhar.
The revelations made by both Maurya and Mayawati make for interesting reading in the background of the changing political environment in the state. Maurya has alleged that Mayawati has been “auctioning” party tickets for the 2017 polls, giving them to the highest bidder, and that she has “strayed” from the principles laid down by Dr Ambedkar, and BSP founder Kashiram. At the end of it, the predictable footnote was that he was feeling “suffocated” in the party and could not continue in it anymore.
Even though he had been a legislator from Padrauna – near Deoria – this time, the party had announced his candidature from Unchahar – closer to Lucknow – near Rae Bareli. In fact, Maurya had been asked not to visit Padrauna so as not to influence the chances of the official BSP nominee announced from the area. Maurya was known to by piqued by this.
An interesting aside that emerged a short while after Maurya’s press conference was that he had recently got his house re-painted. It is customary for BSP leaders to have a predominant blue in the colour scheme of their clothes, homes, decor, etc. But Maurya chose to get the earlier blue colour of his house changed, triggering speculation that he might quit the BSP soon.
In her retaliatory press conference, Mayawati labeled Maurya as a habitual “party hopper” and said that he had done a favour to the BSP by quitting, as otherwise the party would have expelled him in a day or two.
She said that he had been demanding party tickets for himself and his children, and that this was not the BSP party policy. She also quipped that Maurya had perhaps eaten out of Mulayam’s plate and would feel comfortable in SP, since it was the norm there to give tickets to family members.
But the move came as a big blow to the internal communication system that Mayawati had established within her party. No leaders – regardless of position – are allowed to talk to the press, leave alone hold a press conference, without informing Mayawati. All documents meant for the press are cleared by her or persons deputed by her in her absence.
In Maurya’s case, the preparation of a lengthy press release and the decision to hold a press conference went unnoticed by the BSP core team that reports to Mayawati. Also, it is for the first time that a senior leader of this stature has left the party, since in earlier such instances, Mayawati expelled such leaders before they could make a unilateral declaration of quitting. Examples are RK Chaudhary, Barkhu Ram Verma, Baburam Kushwaha, Akhilesh Das, Jugal Kishore etc.
Maurya’s soft corner for the ruling SP – especially Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav – has been noticeable in the last two years. Not only has Maurya stood with the ruling party’s stand on issues like Lok Ayukta, he has been sparing in his comments against the government of late.
On Wednesday too, when Maurya came out of his press conference, he was greeted by senior SP leader and minister Mohammad Azam Khan, who embraced him with a big smile and publicly made him an offer to join the SP. Incidentally, an expansion of Akhilesh Yadav’s ministry is scheduled for June 27, and if Maurya obliges, he may be among those who take oath of office.