Maneka Gandhi's bastion at Pilibhit remains shaken after the Mayawati storm.
"Sources tell me that the Samajwadi Party and BJP have sealed up a secret pact and the twosome of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh have stashed away crores of unaccounted wealth in foreign banks. 'Plan-B' of their strategy is to flee the country after losing the elections," the BSP leader thundered at a rally on Wednesday.
'Plan-A' pertains to Mayawati's theory about a "underhand deal" between the BJP and SP for sharing Lucknow and New Delhi amongst themselves: Uttar Pradesh for SP and the Union Government for the BJP.
The "unholy alliance" will get dismembered and the BSP – after assuming power- "will launch investigations to unearth huge funds siphoned off during the mafia and jungle rule of the last three and a half years," Mayawati said. "The Mulayam-Amar Singh duo will be brought to book and not be allowed to easily flee," she added.
Before leaving for Belgium last Sunday, Maneka Gandhi had spent a contineous 10 days at Pilibhit canvassing for BJP candidates supposedly hand-picked by her. Beginning on Wednesday, her son Varun has taken upon himself the campaign responsibilities.
However it is unfair to be blaming Maneka entirely for what is perceived as the sliding fortunes of the BJP in the region, feels Amitabh Agnihotri, local journalist. His reason: None among the top BJP leadership has provided a response to pressing questions being posed: What explains the BJP's muted response to the Nithari episode? What about the Samajwadi Party's perceived reluctance to submit a formal complaint on the obnoxious CD distributed allegedly by the BJP?
Another aspect to the Maneka enigma: She has represented Pilibhit for five Lok Sabha terms and has an unassailable position. But the former Union minister has been rather out of the loop in local elections. One example: During the previous 2002 elections, she had fielded four candidates on behalf of the Shakti Dal – a political party launched by her. All the candidates lost by huge margins.
On the other hand, the BSP has been relentlessly re-defining and expanding its political territories. In the outgoing assembly, the BSP had won one seat in the Pilibhit region against two of the SP and one of the BJP. This time around, BSP candidates are putting up a tough fight in three constituencies: At Bisalpur, Barkhera and Puranpur.
If voting turnout percentage is as low as what it was in the first phase (around 40 per cent), better prospects emerge for BSP candidates. Reason: BSP cadres are more motivated and committed and have begun to visualise realistic prospects of the party's emergence as the single largest political group in the next assembly.
Mayawati's re-worked political strategy seems worth the game, even if the experiement yield only partial success. This time around, those contesting on BSP tickets include 136 upper castes (including 86 Brahmins),113 OBCs and 61 Muslims – as against 83 scheduled caste candidates. Only a small dent made by these candidates can amount to a deadly blow to the prospects of candidates of other political parties.
For right or wrong reasons, Mayawati has been the first one to recognise that politics in Uttar Pradesh has come a full circle – albeit in a converse manner. The reason that Pilibhit is a good theatre for such experiments is this: Three constituencies in the region are stiff triangular contests and the fourth is a four-cornered contest. A small shift in the minority Muslim votes in favour of the BSP can make a huge diffference to the overall outcome.
Addressing the rally at the Jaisantri grounds, the BSP leader sought to reach out to Muslim voters with a slew of promises: Reservations in government jobs, expansion of the scope of welfare programmes for minorities – an appeal against the Allahabad High Court order de-recognising Muslims as a religious minority.