Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati on Tuesday diverted public attention away from her governance record (which is under attack from the opposition), diluted the buzz surrounding Rahul Gandhi's UP poll campaign, boxed the Congress-led UPA government in Delhi into a tight corner and left two of
the state's three main opposition parties scrambling for a cohesive response by formally announcing a plan to divide India's most populous and politically significant state into four.
The Centre will have to take a call on the issue once the state assembly formally passes a resolution to this effect. But the jury is out on whether the move is Mayawati's electoral masterstroke or political overkill.
The proposal, to carve Purvanchal, Pashchim Pradesh, Bundelkhand and Awadh Pradesh out of Uttar Pradesh isn't new, but the timing - a day after Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi launched his party's high decibel campaign for the state assembly elections early next year - clearly showed her determination to set the agenda in the run-up to the polls.
By lobbing the ball in the Centre's court, Mayawati has offered it a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't option.
Though the Congress, in principal, supports the creation of smaller states, the Manmohan Singh government can hardly be expected to concede the demand for dividing UP when it is struggling to cap the agitation to carve Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh and at a time when ally Trinamool Congress has just made peace with Gorkhaland agitationists in West Bengal.
The inability of the Congress to create Bundelkhand, where there is considerable support for the creation of a new state, may check the growing appeal of Gandhi, who has spent considerable time rebuilding the Congress base in that region.
And this may help the chief minister retain her stranglehold in the area - the BSP had won 27 out of 35 seats here in 2007.
But elsewhere in the state, the demand for division isn't that strong. In fact, the SP's stand - that dividing UP will ring the death knell of the influence that 80 Lok Sabha seats gives the state in New Delhi - has considerable support in many places.
Tuesday's announcement may, thus, help Mayawati marginalise the Congress in some areas, hijack the BJP's agenda of supporting small states and undermine the SP's ambitions of playing a larger national role. But will it help her sweep the elections?
It's still too early to call.
© Copyright © 2013 HT Media Limited. All Rights Reserved.