From the start of her career in politics, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has poured scorn on the practice of dynastic politics practiced by her contemporaries. However, following a series of grave electoral setbacks – such as in the February-March Uttar Pradesh elections where her party won only 19 of the state’s 403 seats – she seems to be falling back on family.

After appointing her younger brother Anand Kumar as the party’s national vice-president in April, while making it clear that he will never contest elections or hold public office, the Dalit leader seems to be grooming his son, her nephew, for an important post in the party.

Akash Kumar, 23, was first seen with Mayawati on April 14, during the swearing-in of Anand Kumar as the party’s second-in-command in Lucknow. The youngster subsequently attended party meetings in May and June. Mayawati is said to have introduced him to her party members at a private meeting recently. She told them that Kumar had just completed an MBA from London, and he would help in the functioning of the party. Kumar is said to be continuously interacting with key functionaries of the BSP to understand the party’s strategies and aims.

Last month, when Mayawati visited Saharanpur – the site of caste clashes between Dalits and Thakurs – Akash Kumar accompanied her. The BSP’s local leaders from Saharanpur who initially failed to recognise the young man, said that Mayawati introduced him to party members as her nephew. When Mayawati spoke to Dalits in Shabbirpur village whose houses were burnt by Thakurs during the violence, Akash Kumar too noted their grievances and took their mobile numbers assuring help.

Though many party members remain confused about his identity – some say he is the son of Subhas Kumar, Mayawati’s brother who died last July after a prolonged illness – they have high hopes from the young man.

‘Party needs new faces’

The BSP does not have a youth wing, and Akash Kumar’s induction into the party is believed to be aimed at wooing that demographic.

The party’s Uttar Pradesh president, Ram Achal Rajbhar, said that the time had come for new faces to be introduced into the party. “Our people should not get misguided by newer outfits or other political parties,” he said. “Youth’s power cannot be neglected.”

Rajbhar was referring to the Bhim Army and the BJP, both of which are trying to woo Dalit voters – considered to be the spine of the Bahujan Samaj Party – in Uttar Pradesh. The Bhim Army is a little-known group that spearheaded protests against last month’s attacks on Dalits in Saharanpur. It also held a massive protest agains the attacks, in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, later that month.

Rajbhar, however, refused to comment on Anand Kumar’s appointment as party vice-president despite the fact that senior leaders like Satish Chandra Mishra and Rajbhar himself have devoted decades of their lives for Mayawati and the BSP.

SP Singh, a social activist and political observer from Uttar Pradesh, said that it was possible that Mayawati decided to induct family members into the party after senior and trusted leaders like KK Gautam (resigned), Swami Prasad Maurya (joined the BJP), RK Chaudhury (quit the party, and contested the UP Assembly elections earlier this year with BJP support) and Nasemuddin Siddiqui (expelled from the BSP last month) deserted the party, or lost Mayawati’s trust.

“Her aim of introducing Akash and Anand into party can also be part of her strategy to keep Dalit vote banks intact,” said Singh.

Rivals criticise Mayawati

As expected, Mayawati’s decision to bring her family into politics is being widely criticised by her political rivals, who pointed to the gap between her statements and actions.

Vijay Bahadur Pathak, the BJP’s general secretary in Uttar Pradesh, said, “The sudden induction of two family members into the BSP is a clear indication that Mayawati wants to hand over the party reins to family members, just like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav [have done]. What is the difference in BSP and others now. What about her tall claims?”

Veteran Samajwadi Party leader CP Rai indicated that Mayawati’s decision to induct her family into the party did not surprise him. “In India, people join politics saying that they will work for the country and not to further the interests of their family members,” said Rai. “However, later, the politician becomes a billionaire and then their whole family joins politics. This is not a new thing. This has been happening all along.”