The Samajwadi Party’s attempts to stitch up a grand alliance of secular parties for the crucial Uttar Pradesh polls seem to have unnerved Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati.

Afraid that such an alliance may dent her prospects in the elections early next year, the Dalit party leader has called a meeting of the party’s district and zonal coordinators to review her electoral strategy. The meeting will be held on November 10 in Lucknow.

Earlier, on Saturday, Mayawati had criticised Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Yadav for talking about a Mahagathbandhan – a grand alliance – of the sort that had propelled the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and Congress to victory in the 2015 Bihar polls. She said that this would only benefit the BJP as it would split the Muslim vote between her party and such an alliance.

Mayawati has been looking to split the Muslim-Yadav combine, the core support base of the Samajwadi Party in the state, and has been eyeing a Muslim-Dalit pact instead. The Bahujan Samaj Party already enjoys the support of the scheduled castes, who form about 21% of the population of the state.

News of Thursday's meeting comes at a time when there has also been increasing talk of a tie-up between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party for the Uttar Pradesh polls. The Samajwadi Party has also reached out to Janata Dal (United), Janata Dal (Secular) Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Rashtriya Lok Dal for an alliance. Top leaders of these parties had attended the Samajwadi Party’s silver jubilee celebrations on Saturday, though no significant headway was made on the alliance.

Time for a rethink

District coordinators are key office-bearers in the highly centralised and cadre-based Bahujan Samaj Party. District coordinators are in charge of the party’s members in their respective districts and serve as a link between the grassroots workers and Mayawati. Zonal coordinators, in turn, oversee the works of the party’s district coordinators in their zone.

At election time, the coordinators and cadre together function like a well-oiled machine, supervising the campaign for party’s candidates and manning polling booths in their areas. But in the run-up to the polls, the coordinators lay low, working to expand the party’s base and training the cadre and members, all this while avoiding the media glare, apparently on Mayawati’s instructions.

“Calling a meeting of coordinators in the midst of the campaign is quite unusual,” said a Bahujan Samaj Party coordinator who did not wish to be identified. “It happens only when Behenji [as Mayawati is called by her party members] has to seek feedback before taking a major decision.”

Bahujan Samaj Party officials said that based on the suggestions she receives at the meeting, Mayawati may review her strategy to consolidate her gains among Muslim voters, whom she has been consistently wooing since she started her campaign this year.

The crucial vote

Muslims constitute about 18% of Uttar Pradesh’s population. Their support, along with the Dalit vote, could catapult Mayawati to victory.

To this end, Mayawati had been aggressively campaigning in areas such as Agra, Azamgarh and Saharanpur, which have a significant population of Muslims and Dalits. She had been working hard to convince Muslims that they could no longer trust the crisis-ridden Samajwadi Party and that aligning with Dalits would now be the only effective way to keep Bharatiya Janata Party out of power in the state.

Till recently, this strategy worked well. The Samajwadi Party, which was already facing anti-incumbency pressures, found itself divided after a feud between state Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle and State Party President Shivpal Yadav. The tussle, which had been building up since June, peaked last month when the chief minister sacked his uncle from the state cabinet, a decision that his father, Mulayam Yadav, publicly disapproved of and which led to the creation of two rival camps in the party.

However, the infighting has strengthened Akhilesh Yadav’s position, helping him step out of Mulayam Yadav’s shadow and emerge as the party’s supreme leader. On the other hand, a series of meetings between the Samajwadi Party leaders and Congress strategist Prashant Kishor and talks of the grand alliance – which picked up last month after the differences within the Samajwadi Party came out in the open – has changed the narrative in the state.