As SP-Congress spar, Mayawati plans comeback

Lucknow, April 2 (IANS) Even as the ongoing slugfest between her arch rival Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre hogs headlines, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati is quietly working on a "comeback plan", gearing for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Ousted from power in Uttar Pradesh by the SP in the March 2012 state assembly polls, the mercurial Dalit leader has already had back-to-back meetings to evolve party strategy for the parliamentary polls. Informed sources say she has finalised 75 percent of the list of party candidates.

Mayawati is set to arrive in the state capital from New Delhi this week and stay put for over 10 days, according to her close aides.

"Behenji's (sister's) plans are very clear. She wants to regain Uttar Pradesh to play a larger role at the centre in the likely eventuality of a hung parliament," a close confidante told IANS.

Coming to the state in the middle of a raging controversy between the SP and the Congress only confirms the point that the leader was "neither interested nor perturbed" by the ongoing political developments at the centre, a source said.

"Our leader knows that the SP has an edge over the BSP when it comes to bargaining with the UPA. Hence we are not interested in the strained ties between the two. We are looking forward to consolidating our position in the next Lok Sabha polls," a senior BSP leader said.

Swamy Prasad Maurya, BSP general secretary and leader of opposition in the state assembly, said: "The people of UP have made up their minds to vote the BSP back to power, after a year of the SP's misrule".

"The writing is on the wall: People are realising their folly in voting for the Samajwadi Party (SP). Under Behenji's leadership we will romp home with stunning results," Maurya asserts.

He is currently in Gorakhpur to meet party workers in a run-up to meetings called by Mayawati at Lucknow. Pointing to the communal clashes and riots that the state has witnessed under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's watch, Maurya says even the minorities have realised that the SP was only paying lip service to their welfare.

Party insiders say Mayawati already has a detailed report of all the legislative constituencies, their problems and the recommendations of party coordinators on the best face they could zero in on as party candidates for the 2014 general elections.

The detailed report has been studied by a group of senior leaders. After deliberations with middle-rung party leaders in the state, the BSP supremo would put her stamp of approval on the list before a formal announcement of candidates is made.

"Behenji has reports and feedback from 'ground zero'. She is interacting with party cadre at the district and block levels to ensure that the best candidate gets the ticket," says Ram Achal Rajbhar, BSP's state unit president.

Sources say that rather than repeating the folly of depending on party leaders and close aides, as she did ahead of the 2012 assembly polls, Mayawati has taken to monitoring every step in the run-up to the 2014 polls herself.

"She appears to have learned from the past, when she was completely cut off from ground realities; the voice of reason was muzzled when she was chief minister," one longstanding aide said.

Meanwhile, the fact that a candidate has already been announced for the Rae Bareli seat, held by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, is being read as an indication that Mayawati sees a larger role for herself at the centre.

The BSP has decided to field Ram Lakhan Pasi, a former state government official who sought voluntary retirement to join the party, from Rae Bareli. Sonia Gandhi, Congress president, is likely to contest for this seat yet again.

This is in sharp contrast to the "benevolent" SP, which seems reluctant to pit any candidate against Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul.

BSP general secretary Naseemuddin Siddiqui asserts that his party is serious about each and every seat in UP.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP candidate had polled over 100,000 votes and had come a distant second in Rae Bareli.

Maintaining equi-distance with the BJP too, the party has also announced former minister Nakul Dubey as its Lok Sabha candidate for Lucknow - a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastion, earlier held by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sources say the BSP chief has already approved the names of 70 party candidates for the Lok Sabha polls but is likely to review their "winning" factor this week, after which the names would be formally announced.

The "special task force" of party leaders, created to assimilate feedback from the lowest levels, is also likely to be closeted with the BSP chief. A study has been conducted on the "poor fortunes of Dalits" in the state ever since Mayawati fell from power.

During her 10-day stay in the state capital, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister will also meet party leaders from other states.

She is reported to be seriously contemplating an expansion of the party's presence, putting up candidates for assembly elections in Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - all states which go to the polls this year.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)