A meeting between Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav on July 21 may well be the first concrete step towards the formation of an anti-Hindutva alliance in Uttar Pradesh ahead of imminent by-elections in two Lok Sabha seats in the state, as well as the 2019 general elections. It came a day after Mayawati resigned formally from the Rajya Sabha.

The meeting assumes significance as Tejashwi Yadav is said to be in constant touch with Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. After the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections early this year brought the BJP to power in a landslide victory, the Bihar deputy chief minister’s father, Lalu Prasad, is said to have played a key role in persuading Mayawati to abandon her misgivings about a pre-poll alliance. On April 14, just over a month after the election results were declared, Mayawati said that she was ready to align with anti-BJP parties, a departure from her previous stance.

The meeting is also noteworthy because it comes at a time Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has demanded that Tejashwi Yadav should resign from the state cabinet as he has been named, along with Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, in a First Information Report filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with an alleged scam that occurred during Lalu Prasad’s tenure as Union railway minister in 2009.

Joining hands?

According to insiders in the Bahujan Samaj Party, the meeting with Tejashwi Yadav was held at Mayawati’s home in Delhi. They say it lasted for nearly one-and-a-half hours. The insiders said that the two leaders discussed a whole range of issues, including the prospects of an anti-Hindutva alliance involving the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress for the upcoming by-elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The elections are necessitated by the fact that both Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya – who are members of the Lok Sabha – are required to assume membership of the state legislative assembly or council within six months of taking charge. They are expected to quit their Lok Sabha seats once the vice-presidential election is over on August 5. While Adityanath will vacate the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat, Maurya will resign from Phulpur.

Though it is not yet a done deal, the Bahujan Samaj Party insiders feel that Tejashwi Yadav’s meeting with Mayawati has increased the possibility of her becoming the joint candidate of the Opposition from Phulpur. In turn, the Samajwadi Party might field a joint opposition candidate from Gorakhpur.

If this arrangement works out, it is also possible that the alliance might field joint candidates against Adityanath and Maurya in case they decide to contest Assembly elections instead of entering the legislature via the legislative council, which will not require elections.

An agreement for the bye-elections might also lay the foundation for an anti-Hindutva alliance in Uttar Pradesh before the 2019 general elections. It is believed that any such alliance will help both the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party augment their respective support bases and make a political impact in the Hindi belt.

Why now?

Though Mayawati has never entered into any political alliance in the past, her mentor and party founder Kanshi Ram joined hands with the Samajwadi Party in 1993, when the Ram Janmabhoomi movement ­ – which was instrumental in helping the BJP gain popularity in India – was at its peak. The Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party succeeded in preventing the BJP from coming to power in the state, and formed the government amid triumphant slogans like “Mile Mulayam, Kanshi Ram, hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shri Ram [Mulayam and Kanshi Ram joined hands and blew the BJP away]”.

Mulayam Singh Yadav was sworn in as chief minister of the alliance government. However, the alliance did not last long, with the Bahujan Samaj Party withdrawing support in June 1995. A day later, Mayawati was forced to spend hours inside a VIP guest house in Lucknow fearing for her life as Samajwadi Party goons, upset at the crumbling of the alliance, paraded outside threatening to kill her. Mayawati termed the incident as the “most humiliating experience” of her life, and she or her party never spoke of an alliance again.

Change of stance

The Bahujan Samaj Party has been under siege for quite some time now. It was decimated in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when it failed to win a single seat, while in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, it managed a paltry 19 seats, down from 80 in 2012. The BJP took the state in a landslide victory.

Mayawati’s April 14 statement that she was ready to align with anti-BJP parties is believed to have been born partly out of her desperation to revive her party and partly because Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, whom she blames for the guest house episode, has been effectively sidelined by his son Akhilesh Yadav.

Akhilesh Yadav, who has always addressed Mayawati as buaji (aunt), has been quick to indicate that he is open to treading a political path different from that of his father. A day after Mayawati’s statement that she was not averse to aligning with anti-BJP parties, Akhilesh Yadav advocated the necessity of forming a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country to take on the saffron party.

Insiders said that Lalu Yadav had a long telephonic conversation with Mayawati two days before she declared a shift in her party’s position on a pre-poll alliance. Additionally, after the Bahujan Samaj Party leader resigned from the Rajya Sabha – claiming she was not allowed to speak about atrocities against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh – Lalu Prasad promptly offered to send her to the upper house from Bihar if she wished it.

Mayawati’s resignation and the impending by-elections in Uttar Pradesh have given an impetus to the need to consolidate secular forces in the state. This was reflected not just in her meeting with Tejashwi Yadav, but also in her address to party MLAs, MPs and senior office-bearers whom she had called to her Delhi home on Sunday.

Party insiders said that at the meeting Mayawati said that “she has no reservations” in allowing leaders of other parties to address public meetings from her stage. This is no small shift for Mayawati, and is a continuation of her April 14 statement.