Why are Narendra Modi and Mayawati engaged in a war of words?
The latest salvo came from Mayawati who attacked the PM by saying “Modi government’s ship is sinking” on May 14th. However, Maywati’s aggression has not come out of the blue. It was a response to a previous attack of Modi on her.
The election cycle is on its last lap with just one more round of voting to go. As the scene shifts to this last crucial phase before results are declared on May 23rd, the political rhetoric is getting stranger. The most outrageous aspect of this is the brewing battle of words between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Following the end of phase six, hostilities have broken out between Mayawati and Modi. The latest salvo came from Mayawati who attacked the PM by saying “Modi government’s ship is sinking” on May 14th. “Prime Minister Modi government’s ship is sinking, even the RSS has stopped supporting them. In view of unfulfilled election promises and the public agitation, their swayamsevaks are not being seen putting in the work, it has made Modi nervous,” the BSP chief said on Twitter in Hindi.
Prior to this, she took a dig at Modi by saying that women in the BJP are scared of their husbands meeting the PM, fearing they too might abandon them like him (Modi). “How can he (Modi) respect sisters and wives of others when he has left his own innocent wife for political gains?” Mayawati asked at a rally. She also sent out a press release, where she said, “Under such circumstances, I specially request all the women of the country not to give their votes to such a person. This would also be their real respect to the deserted wife of Modiji.”
Her statements have been roundly criticised by various leaders of the BJP. BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman called a press conference to specifically address the “Modi wife” statement on Mayawati. “I am absolutely disappointed and shocked that she spoke so ill about the PM and his personal life, and about women in BJP. Behen (sister) Mayawati please be assured we're all absolutely safe, secure and have good professional relationships in our party,” she said. Arun Jaitley was strident in his criticism. He said that she had “stooped to an all-time low” and was not suitable for public life.
However, the narrative of the BJP seems to forget one key detail. Maywati’s aggression has not come out of the blue. It was a response to a previous attack of Modi on her. Furthermore, this not a spur of the moment exchange. It has been building for a while.
The present exchange was sparked off by Modi on May 12th. Modi accused Mayawati of shedding "crocodile tears" over the gang rape of a Dalit woman in Alwar, and said the state government was suppressing the case. The BSP is supporting the Congress-led government there. That did not stop Mayawati from levelling the same charge at the Congress. But Modi still challenged her to pull her party out of the alliance.
This leads to a question. Why is the BJP and Modi going after Mayawati? The answer to that may lie in the poll prospects in the biggest state of India, Uttar Pradesh. In 2014, the BJP performed spectacularly in the state in the Lok Sabha elections, winning an unprecedented 71 of the 80 seats. The party then swept the 2017 state elections as well, winning 312 seats on its own. However, the situation is different in 2019.
For starters, unlike the last time, the BJP is up against a formidable alliance of the BSP, Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). While there were some doubts about how the SP and BSP would work together, given their acrimonious history, they have been laid to rest. From media reports, it’s clear that the alliance is putting up a tough fight to the BJP in the state. The party could potentially lose a number of the seats it won in 2014.
Another headache for the BJP has been speculation that Mayawati might be projected as the PM candidate by the Opposition. While thier nomination is not set in stone, there have been hints. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has already made it clear that he will support Mayawati for the top post. The BJP has been doing everything it can to discredit the alliance, with Modi even calling it “mahamilavat” (mixed up) and accusing them of trying to save terrorists.
That doesn’t seem to have worked as Modi switched tactics after the election began, and seemed to try to woo Mayawati to his side. He publicly told her that SP and the Congress were conspiring against her and trying undermine her. Whatever may have been the intention, it just served to rile her up. She accused Modi of trying to undermine the alliance and reaffirmed her commitment to the alliance. She even put out a call to vote for Congress President Rahul Gandhi in his constituency, Amethi.
Thus, we come to the current approach of the BJP towards Mayawati. Now, they seem to want to discredit her just before the last phase of elections. Whether they hope to profit electorally or are just trying to diminish attempts to project her as the PM candidate, only the party knows. Mayawati doesn’t seem to let these attempts go by silently.