Once the dust settles — and that may only happen after the results of the 15th Lok Sabha elections are announced — we will be able to gather the true significance of the vote of confidence that the UPA government won on Tuesday. As for the Indo-US nuclear deal, it is finally out of the freezer and will face its true oven test only when the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group decides on whether to let India into the nuclear supermarket later this year. So beyond taking the draft safeguards agreement to the IAEA in August, the UPA will have its hands full preparing for Elections 2009. In a way, the trust vote that Manmohan Singh sought and won was not only a dress rehearsal for things to come but also the stirrings of an election manifesto. With the Left off its back, the Congress is bent on reasserting its role as the keeper of the aam admi’s trust, in which ‘paramanu bijli’ will now be pitched as part of the hyphenated development mantra of sadak-paani.
But there have been tectonic shifts in the political landscape with some of the protagonists finding themselves in a changed role. Even though she ended up on the losing side on Tuesday, BSP chief Mayawati has registered, to coin a phrase, a ‘pyrrhic defeat’. While the BJP moans about the government raking up “just a numerical victory” — as if there is something qualitative required in a parliamentary vote — Mayawati seems to have inched herself into the real Oppositional space. Apart from the fact that no MP from the BSP and a maximum number from the BJP ‘crossed over’ during the trust vote, Mayawati has managed to turn herself into an anti-UPA political pivot. Unlike the last time we saw the UNPA raise its head, this time the ragtag regional forces have huddled around someone in a far better position than any of them.
Mayawati still has a long way to go in cobbling and keeping together a viable cluster. But it is the BSP, not the BJP, that has emerged as a lightning rod. It would be wise to recognise this fact at this juncture. For as far as any ‘winners’ from Tuesday go, the shortlist definitely didn’t include the leader of the real Opposition.