The wave on which Mayawati rode to power in Uttar Pradesh could bring in its wake seminal changes in the way politics is done at the Centre and in the countryside.
Political analysts said by combining the underprivileged with the Brahmins, the BSP leader has transcended the politics of caste and vested in the dalits the leadership of the SC-Muslim-Brahmin social combine that had kept the Congress in power for decades.
The emerging scenario reinforces the possibility of regional players growing beyond home states and navigating coalitions at the Centre.
Before capturing Lucknow, Mayawati had bagged 16 seats in the Delhi Municipal Corporation. The two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, had better watch out.
The trend could endanger their shared electoral properties in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where polls are due next year.
In the immediate future, they would tangibly feel Mayawati’s clout in the Presidential elections due in June-July. Only the BSP can swing the balance of power in UPA’s favour in the electoral college valued at approximately 11 lakh votes.
However, well-placed Congress sources did not foresee any problem in having Mayawati on board. "There is no reason for the BSP to revise its support to the UPA," they said.
But the terms of engagement could indeed change. "Had Mayawati got stranded at 175 in the UP assembly, the Congress would have furnished a wishlist in return for support. Now it will have to approach her with folded hands," said dalit thinker Chandrabhan Prasad.
"It’s a turning point in contemporary Indian politics, almost akin to the 1977 Left Front victory in West Bengal," noted Prof Subrato Mukherjee of Delhi University.
"The social coalition the Congress led was headed by the upper castes. Here, it will be in the hands of the dalits and intermediary castes who haven’t had their due for hundreds of years," he said.
For his part, Pushpesh Pant, Dean of the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), introduced a word of caution.
"The UP results may not mean that these sociological forces will be replicated nationally though they may have some impact," he said.
So, will Mayawati’s graduation from being a sectarian leader to one with a relatively inclusive social base mark the polity’s emergence from fragmentation triggered by the politics of mandal and kamandal?
The question is relevant as the BJP’s tally of 50-odd is the worst since 1991, when the Ayodhya movement was at its peak. Likewise, the SP’s 2007 score compares very poorly with the 143 seats it got in 2002.
"If this trend continues, the OBCs could be marginalized. The forward castes oppose them on the quota question and the dalits for lawlessness in the countryside," said Dipankar Gupta, professor of sociology at the JNU.
But where does it leave the Congress that failed to hold on to the 25 seats it won in the last elections? The national party, argued Mukherjee, will have to reinvent itself. "It’s mass democracy at work. The gulf between the regimes and the people is lessening in what political theorist Harold Laski could have termed a revolution by consent," he said.
Prasad made the same point while forecasting a BSP performance comparable with that of the Congress in the next general elections. He said coalition regimes at the Centre will remain. But their composition and the core around which they are built might change.