Mayawati has served four separate terms as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous and politically important state Image Credit: ANI

Is it the end of the political road for Kumari Mayawati, 67? The four time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (India’s political bellwether state) and the chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is invisible in national politics, quiescent and has barely been seen in public post the pandemic.

Mayawati was an erstwhile firebrand who impressed Kanshi Ram, the founder of the BSP enough for him to name her his successor. Today a much diminished Mayawati confines herself to an occasional tweet against UP challenger Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

I spoke to half a dozen leaders across the political spectrum in Uttar Pradesh for this SWAT ANALYSIS and the one thing all of them were in complete agreement that Mayawati barely exists as a political threat.

You would reckon that with barely 400 days to go for the big battle of 2024, out of which UP accounts for 80 seats, Mayawati would be off and running. You would be wrong.

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Nowhere to be found

Mayawati’s party leaders and workers, who are on the fast track to the exit the BSP, don’t even know if “behenji” — as she is universally known as — is in Lucknow or Delhi.

In both cities, Mayawati has built herself fortresses, from which she barely emerges. Mayawati has a fetish for hygiene and is a confirmed germaphobic. Both conditions have exacerbated post Covid.

A slew of corruption cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) — both controlled by the Centre — say sources sotto voce. Whenever a UP election approaches, the cases are dialled up and summons issued.

Mayawati had a huge Dalit vote bank to begin with but she has slowly cut herself off her voters and taken a backseat Image Credit: Reuters

Consequently, Mayawati goes silent. Says one of the few BSP leaders who still has access to her, “Behenji is terrified of going to jail. She believes that people are plotting to destroy her. Currently except for her nephew, she has no trust in anyone. Every leader, except S C Mishra, has fallen out with her and has been drummed out of the party”

Ironically, Mayawati currently resembles another female political leader — the late J Jayalalitha, multiple term CM of Tamil Nadu, who had also cut herself off from the public. Both women inspired awe among the party cadres.

Women leaders in India have to be extremely circumspect in public or rivals spread ugly canards and indulge in character assassination. They often sacrifice their private lives and are often cut off and inaccessible.

AWOL, forgotten, abandoned?

Mayawati had a huge Dalit vote bank to begin with but slowly as she cut herself off her voters, except for a loyal core of Jatavs — her own caste — people seem to have abandoned her to seek a better power share.

The Dalits in UP have a relationship freighted with animosity towards the Other Backward Castes (OBC), who are represented by Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party (SP). Even here, the Yadavs who share a caste with the SP leaders grab all the benefits.

The Congress party, which traditionally represented the Dalits, is in shambles in UP. Therefore, the Dalits and non Yadav OBCs are left with the BJP. It helps that in recent years the BJP has tried to broaden its appeal.

Mayawati has even tried alliance politics, tying up with the BJP and then Yadav’s SP. She complains that her loyal vote bank transfers their shares to the ally but she does not benefit as no votes are transferred to her. This complaint is actually not borne out by reality but Mayawati is desperate that nothing is working.

No show from UP’s Iron Lady

Considered an able administrator, Mayawati has always run her party on her whims and fancies that sees a steady exodus of leaders.

At one point she was UP’s Iron Lady with a tough approach to law and order, ensuring cases against criminal politicians. Now that is a distant memory as Mayawati is a pale shadow of herself.

Statues of Mayawati and Kanshi Ram loom over the Lucknow skyline in the parks created by her as a living tribute to herself and the BSP founder.

This election could be the last one for the woman who made history by becoming the first woman CM of UP.