Mayawati’s bold gambit to push for dividing Uttar Pradesh into four separate states just ahead of state assembly polls has set the cat among the pigeons. Her political rivals — the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party — all appear stumped. They are clearly at a loss on how to respond to a move that could easily set the agenda for next year’s crucial electoral battle in the country’s most politically significant state.
This is quintessential Behenji — punching out aggressively when she should have been cowering in the corner after being crucified almost on a daily basis by her political opponents and the media for corruption and misgovernance. Indeed, Mayawati has always been her most pugnacious when under attack daring her opponents just when they think they have her cornered. It is this political audacity that has time and again helped the Dalit firebrand to snatch opportunities from what would otherwise be formidable challenges.
Coming as it does a day after Rahul Gandhi, the great ‘White Hope’ of the Congress flagged off the party’s campaign from Phulpur, the dramatic move seems to have stung it the most. Anxious to regain momentum after Gandhi’s unfortunate description of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh in Maharashtra as “beggars” and the even more embarrassing spectacle of party ministers and leaders kicking protesting Samajwadi Party workers, the Congress has now a new headache.
The ball will be soon in the UPA regime’s court to give concrete shape to Mayawati’s proposal likely to be formalised through a resolution in the assembly. Already a question mark hangs over what was being touted as the imminent alliance between the Congress and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal which is a fierce votary of Harit Pradesh, one of the fragments of the proposed division of Uttar Pradesh.
Not that the BJP is in much better fettle with the party tying itself up in knots in its attempt to support the reorganisation of larger states into smaller units and questioning Mayawati’s motives as a “pre-election stunt”. Only the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh has taken up the gauntlet thrown down by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister unequivocally opposing the proposed division as diminishing the importance of the state. However it remains to be seen how this outright opposition will go down with the sizeable chunk of Samajwadi Party supporters in Bundelkhand who have for long clamoured for a separate political entity to lift the region from perpetual backwardness.
Interestingly, Mayawati’s latest move comes at the risk of diluting her own powers as chief minister of the country’s most populous state by far with as many as 80 Lok Sabha seats. As a matter of fact there are many political observers who feel that the BSP supremo is so confident that the central government would never get down to implementing her proposal that she feels there is no personal risk but only political gain. Yet it would be unwise to dismiss the proposal as mere pre-election posturing as along with being a superb short-term tactician she has always sought to think ahead for herself and the party.
It is possible that in Mayawati’s calculations, the BSP would stand a far better chance in the longer term contesting from four states where given the even distribution of the Dalit support base across all of them it is bound to win from one or the other compared to the inevitable defeat in undivided Uttar Pradesh sooner or later and lose everything at one go. Relentlessly ambitious, she is likely to have worked out all the pros and cons both tactical and strategic of playing her trump card at this juncture.
Ultimately, much would depend on the popular mood in Uttar Pradesh. If there is indeed a huge anti-incumbency wave against the Mayawati regime, her attempt to divert the storm by playing on regional aspirations may come a cropper. On the other hand, if she faces just the usual undercurrent of hostility and resentment against an incumbent government, the bold new vision of an unmanageably large Uttar Pradesh being repackaged into smaller feasible states with more opportunities for all could pay off big time taking the wind out of the sails of an already divided opposition.
Ajoy Bose is the author of Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati
The views expressed by the author are personal