Mayawati's political rout in the March 2012 UP Assembly elections had done what it does to politicians who have been vanquished decisively at the hustings – it sent her underground.
But it is difficult to keep smart politicians like her down for too long. After following a wait-and-watch policy for six months, the feisty former chief minister, sniffing blood, is back on the trail.
She used her Sankalp Rally in early October, coinciding with the birthday of former party supremo Kanshi Ram, to up the ante on the six-month-old Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) government. Without warning or any preliminaries, she chose the occasion to go ballistic, and for good reason. The SP government's policy of opening up cases on decisions taken during her regime has left the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of several former BSP ministers and legislators.
After the Labour and Construction Co-operative Federation (LACCFED) scam resulted in Badshah Singh's arrest, there are others who believe they are on the state government's hit list. Among them, former ministers Sadal Prasad, Avadhpal Singh, Rangnath Mishra, Nandgopal Nandy, Chadhary Laxman Narayan and Anis Ahmed have already been called in for questioning by investigators.
Former state labour minister, Badshah Singh, a close Mayawati acolyte, was arrested in October by a special investigation bureau (SIB) of the state cooperative cell for receiving five crores rupees as kickback from LACCFED officers for sanctioning a Rs 100-crore labour shed construction project.
In the belief that offence is the best form of defence, Mayawati has decided to launch a campaign which analysts believe is aimed at keeping the 2014 General Elections in mind.
The fledgling UP government and its youthful chief minister, on the mat over serious law and order issues, including communal riots, has set the stage for the powerful Dalit leader to strike back.
Along with it are issues close to her identity politics: development schemes named after prominent Dalit leaders Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram have been changed, as have names of districts christened on Dalit icons. So the atmosphere, as far as she is concerned, is right to deliver her blows.
There is another factor that a shrewd politician like her cannot ignore, the possibility of the General Elections being held before schedule. Party workers have been told to keep their poll preparations on a war footing.
Mayawati is going all out to woo the electorate. Cadres have been instructed to increase memberships not just among the Dalits but other prominent sections, most notably Muslims and Brahmins. She is acutely aware that the 18 per cent Brahmin vote in the state did not support her this year and was in a substantial way, responsible for her downfall.
Consider the following: Apart from removing iconic Dalit names like Kanshi Ram and Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Chatrapati Sahuji Maharaj Medical University in Lucknow has been renamed King Georges' Medical College. Six districts named by her government have been changed and charges of financial irregularities in the construction of various memorials have continued to hover over her head.
The message that Mayawati is sending out at her frequent meetings is that Dalits are being targeted by the present government. The Congress and the BJP appear unwilling to get their acts together. So all in all, the political atmosphere, according to her calculations, is gradually but slowly tilting in her favour.
According to leaders close to her, Mayawati's 'wait and watch' policy was guided by the fact that she did not immediately choose to go on the offensive against a government which had a clear mandate. But she was clearly biding her time.
Before any other political party could get a crack at the BSP's vote bank, Mayawati has laid out her agenda. In her scheme of things, the SP and the BJP should never be allowed to become contenders for the throne in Delhi and she should morph into an alternative to the UPA.
Political realism would, however, dictate that her thinking could be merely wishful at the moment – she has to get seats outside UP for achieving that highest ambition. To get there, the BSP will have to win Lok Sabha get seats outside UP and the former chief minister is banking on her cadres and her own aggression to win a few in Punjab, Uttaranchal and Madhya Pradesh to bolster her chances at reaching the country's top position.
Her 22 per cent Dalit and tribal vote in the state is more or less intact, despite the Congress' best efforts to retrieve its once-lost vote bank. That would explain her recent virulent attacks on the Congress.
But her real and only serious rival in UP remains the SP. To meet that ever potent threat, she is travelling extensively in the state, telling one rally after the other that the SP government has ditched the minorities, crimes have gone up manifold, there have been a dozen riots in the state since the new government came to power and that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is basically anti-Dalit and the "Minister for Announcements" who operates with the help of lap tops and other modern gadgetry, with very little idea of what is happening on the ground.
What may work out in her favour is the Congress' aggressive wooing of the SP's vote bank, mainly Muslims, a split which would suit her to no end. It would be pertinent to remember here that the Congress won 22 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 General Elections, a distinct improvement on its nine seats in the 2004 elections and even though they were routed in the assembly elections held earlier this year, party strategists believe that they may be coming out of the political wilderness imposed on them in India's most crucial state since 1989.
The Congress is keen to project that there is no question of an impending mid-term poll. Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi ruling out such an eventuality, told reporters "There was no guarantee that the sky may not fall on our heads."
BSP's UP president Ram Achal Rajbhar told TSI, "Mayawati has accorded a new status to the depressed classes, hence it is our beholden duty to instal her as prime minister." That is the political line going down loud and clear to the BSP rank and file.
The presence of upper caste Brahmans and Muslims at her Sankalp Rally have, perhaps, given the indication that these two powerful vote banks are favourably inclined towards her. It has reportedly caused some concern in the SP and BJP, the saffron party coming a poor fourth.
Says Mayawati's key aide and king maker Satish Mishra,"Brahmans have been pushed to performing non-jobs in the SP government. One has been made sports minister while the others are serving as protocol ministers. During the BSP regime, there were dozens of Brahman ministers but despite three dozen Brahman legislators in this assembly, only three have been found fit to join the state Cabinet."
The BSP has an old practice: traditionally, it is the first party that plunges itself into poll preparations, much before the others can get their act together. This time too, the task of selecting party candidates has been given to its regional leaders and district presidents and some names for the General Elections are said to have already been identified, even if informally. One party leader said that names of most candidates could be finalised by the end of 2012 so that they become familiar with their electorate and the main issues. True to its tradition, the BSP has blown its war bugle. Now it is up to the others to pick up the gantlet.