Mayawati is losing the perception war but does she care?

At a time when leaders are making aggressive remarks against rivals, one finds an element of defensiveness in Mayawati’s speeches when she constantly repeats that there will be no more statues and par

Published: 23rd February 2017 04:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd February 2017 06:46 AM   |  A+A-

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati | PTI

Express News Service

At a time when leaders are making aggressive remarks against rivals, one finds an element of defensiveness in Mayawati’s speeches when she constantly repeats that there will be no more statues and parks if she comes to power. This betrays her acceptance of the opposition propaganda that she wasted money on such things when she was in power


At a time when political actors are employing consultants to give them an image makeover so that they can gain a perception advantage, Mayawati is still cast in the old mould. Her political strategizing lacks innovation.
Take some simple facts. Mayawati does not release an election manifesto as no one reads it. Her party doesn’t contest local elections as a policy as it does not want to waste its energy before the final battle, ie, the Assembly and Lok Sabha election. It doesn’t have a spokesperson because it sees the media is Brahmanical.

Maywati refuses to come to terms with a political context that requires parties and their leaderships to be constantly visible on the ground and in the media. She relies instead on caste- and community-based quasi-secretive Bhaichara Sammelans. This in fact signifies her assumption that a consolidated Dalit base would convince voters in other sections of society the BSP is a ‘winnabile’ party, an impression that might aid her effort to forge a successful electoral equation. Such an assumption might have been plausible when the Samajwadi Party was led by Mulayam Singh and his likes who shared the assumption that adding a layer to their core voter base was a sufficient electoral strategy.
Thus were leaders like Amar Singh (a Rajput), Beni Prasad Verma (a Kurmi), Ateek Ahmad and Mukhtar Ansari (Muslims) sought to be brought into the SP fold. Had Mulayam Singh Yadav succeeded in having his way in the SP, Mayawati’s strategy would have made sense for the BSP. But with a rival like Akhilesh Yadav who has successfully reinvented his and his party’s image, the old assumptions have become quite inadequate.
Of late, elections in UP are being won by attracting swing voters. This requires constant innovation and creativity. On this parameter, Maywati lags behind. Her speeches lack a dialogic mode and lack the quality of extempore speeches.  

At a time when leaders are making aggressive remarks against rivals, one finds an element of defensiveness in Mayawati’s speeches as when she constantly repeats that there will be no more statues and parks if she comes to power this time. This betrays her acceptance of the opposition propaganda that she wasted money on such things when she was in power. Nowhere does she mention her achievement of building decent houses -- Kanshiram Awasiya Colonies -- for poor people in general and Dalits and lower OBCs in particular. Also absent is any reference to her unique experiment of developing the poorest villages through her Ambedkar Gram programme. Her concept was copied by the Akhilesh Yadav government with a name change as Adarsh Lohiya Gram. And he is marketing it with vigour.
Except asserting her credentials as a tough administrator, Mayawati doesn’t have much to offer to the middle class and floating voters. Her preference for big rallies - in contrast to Akhilesh Yadav who addresses small but more rallies and establishes a connect with voters -- is not only making her relatively invisible and risks losing the battle of perception, especially among the floating voters who are accustomed to going with the wind. This war of perception is fought in the realm of media and therefore requires constant engagement. However, Mayawati’s disdain for the middle class gets extrapolated to a disdain for the media and by extension for the floating voters.

Mayawati’s exclusive reliance on cementing the Dalit-Muslim alliance has made her blind to the importance of the crucial role played by floating voters in tilting the electoral outcome, and she has taken no measures to correct this. It’s her rivals who are setting the agenda and dominating the war of perception. The majority of floating voters hail from non-Yadav OBC castes, a significant section of whom used to be quasi-loyal voters of the BSP. These voters are being approached by the BJP and SP and a majority of them are not taking her Muslim-centric approach in good humour.
Affected by a sense of relative deprivation, these lower OBCs desire pampering. Ironically, Mayawati is not only lagging behind in capturing the aspirations of lower OBCs but also of Muslims who are still swayed by the overtures of Akhilesh Yadav’s SP. Wherever Muslims are voting for a BSP candidate, they are found to be voting for the instrumental reason of backing a winnable candidate rather than out of enthusiasm to see Mayawati as the CM. Rather, it’s Akhilesh who a majority of Muslims desire to see as the CM of the state.
(Sajjan Kumar is a Ph.D from Centre for Political Studies, JNU. He is associated with People’s Pulse, a Hyderabad-based research organization specializing in fieldwork-based political and electoral studies.)

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