New Delhi: Rows of men and women sitting quietly on floor mats and listening to her in rapt attention had been a common sight at meetings of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) office bearers. At those meetings, chaired by party supremo and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, this was a routine arrangement just until a few years ago.
Then came the time when chairs were laid out not just for her, but other attendees, as the BSP tried to shelve its regimented image and approach.
At public rallies too, Mayawati was now seen sharing the stage with other leaders.
It remains rare, though, to spot anyone other than her on the dais in a meeting of BSP’s party functionaries. Rarer still is for the party to publicly release pictures showing co-occupants of the podium.
Marking a break from the past, the party did exactly that on 8 July, after a huddle with BSP functionaries from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. The pictures shared by BSP on Twitter show Mayawati’s nephew and BSP national coordinator Akash Anand, along with his father and BSP national vice-president Anand Kumar, occupying a sofa near Mayawati on the dais.
08-07-2023-BSP PRESS NOTE-HARAYANA-PUNJAB- CHANDIGARH REVIEW MEETING PHOTO pic.twitter.com/x1sDOqwbKY
— Mayawati (@Mayawati) July 8, 2023
The pictures have since become a subject of intense discussion in party circles with Bahujan Samaj Party leaders seeing it as a conscious move by the party chief to send yet another signal — possibly the sharpest so far — that Akash is her heir-apparent.
“The party functionaries and workers who attended the meeting returned with that impression, yes. Akash was made the party’s national coordinator in 2019 itself but by making him sit so close to her on the dais, Behen ji (Mayawati) has made it evident that she is grooming him as a successor. When Manyavar Kanshi Ram was alive and running the party, Mayawati used to sit beside him,” said a BSP leader based in Uttar Pradesh.
Kanshi Ram, the founder of BSP and Mayawati’s mentor, died in October 2006 after suffering a heart attack. Following his death, Mayawati took charge of the party.
She has since drawn attention to the succession question from time to time with a set of curious moves, beginning in 2008. In August that year, addressing a rally in Lucknow, she reportedly declared that she had chosen her successor, without revealing the name.
“The successor I have chosen for myself is someone 18-20 years younger than me and hails from my own ‘chamar‘ community…But let me make it absolutely clear that he is not anyone belonging to my family,” Rediff quoted Mayawati as having said.
She had added that the name will be disclosed in the event of her “sudden death” or if her “political adversaries succeed in their vicious game plan” of sending her to jail on trumped-up charges. Soon after, it emerged that she had appointed her personal aide Rajaram the party’s national vice-president — a post she occupied when Kanshi Ram was alive.
Rajaram was subsequently elected to the Rajya Sabha where he completed two terms.
Similarly, Manoj Kumar and R. Sridhar — both her personal attendants — were elevated to the posts of national secretaries between 2012 and 2016, triggering curiosity.
Mayawati & the question of succession
While the succession question was foregrounded by Mayawati herself in 2008, she has over the years largely avoided commenting on the issue.
In 2021, making a rare intervention on the matter, she reiterated that her successor would be a Dalit whose name would be kept under wraps as long as she was fit to lead the party. “I am not going to be unfit anytime soon,” she had said.
However, even as she refrained from making direct comments on the issue, the lengths to which Mayawati went to promote her nephew within the party has only cemented the perception that he was being groomed to lead the Bahujan Samaj Party in the future.
Akash was first seen with Mayawati in April 2017, when his father Anand was appointed the BSP national vice-president.
According to a BSP insider, she had then introduced Akash to party functionaries as someone who did his MBA from London and would help in the party’s smooth functioning. That year, he also accompanied her to Saharanpur in the aftermath of Thakur-Dalit clashes.
Anand stepped down from the post of BSP vice-president in 2018 to counter allegations of nepotism, only to be reappointed in 2019, on the condition that he would never hold any public office or contest polls. Along with his appointment, Akash was made the BSP national coordinator, in what was considered a sign of things to come.
While the BSP’s footprint has shrunk due to a series of electoral reverses — the party’s tally in the Uttar Pradesh assembly dropped from 206 in 2007 to 1 in 2022 — Akash continues to hold the post.
Last month, the 32-year-old was made the party’s election incharge of poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana. Soon after the announcement, he tweeted his gratitude to Mayawati for ‘entrusting him with the important responsibility’.
“As respected, Mayawati ji has said, we will contest the upcoming assembly elections on issues like exploitation of dalits, tribals and other backward classes at all levels, poverty, unemployment, price rise. Bahujan mission and movement is the duty of all of us, and with the faith with which I have been given the responsibility of this mission, I will maintain the same faith of the top leadership and all the workers,” he added.
In the 2018 Rajasthan polls, six candidates contesting on BSP tickets won, while two emerged as winners in Chhattisgarh. The party drew a blank in Madhya Pradesh in 2018, where it bagged four seats in the 2013 polls.
Despite its reduced presence in state assemblies, the BSP managed to send 10 MPs to the Lok Sabha in 2019 — an improvement from 2014, when it failed to get any candidate elected, compared to 2009 when it bagged 21 seats.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)