There is no doubt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s triumph in the trust vote and the political drama that surrounded it will have far-reaching implications. They go well beyond who won or lost the numbers’ game and whether TV images of currency-waving MPs have tarred the image of Indian democracy. Indeed, events of the past few weeks indicate no less than epochal changes in the politics of this country and may redraw the political battlelines that have existed for many decades.
The PM’s decisive break with the Left and his promise of an unfettered market-ruled regime mean a rejection of the Congress’ carefully cultivated facade of non-alignment and social democracy. Nothing better illustrates this than the manner in which the current regime managed a majority in the Parliament on American backing and corporate muscle. That the PM has been allowed by the Gandhi family to break the shackles in an election year, and that too at a time of high inflation and public disaffection, underlines the power of his backers and the desperation of the Congress leadership.
This turnaround has bamboozled the BJP — the original claimant to represent US interests and corporate agendas in India. It is no small irony that the last parliamentary polls saw a rejection of the BJP for precisely the same policies that the Congress is espousing today. Not surprisingly, it is difficult for the BJP to combat what looks suspiciously like its mirror image.
Even more momentous than the Congress reinventing itself is the gathering political storm that could swiftly overrun the Opposition space. At first glance, the motley collection of regional parties and the Left Front may seem a pathetic replay of Third Front politics that had been so discredited in the 90s. But the vital difference is the emergence of Dalit firebrand Mayawati as the spearhead of the alliance. This development gives it a qualitatively different mass appeal.
For Mayawati, it is a historic opportunity to spread her wings across India. Most people agree that her occupation of the centrestage through the political drama that surrounded the trust vote has given her a larger-than-life national profile. But what may well be more important for her political evolution is the maturity she is bound to gain from interacting closely with the Left Front as well as other regional parties.
Despite her meteoric rise, Mayawati had so far insulated herself from coalition politics, choosing to plough a lonely furrow. This was the correct policy for the BSP in Uttar Pradesh but was a handicap as she sought to expand her political reach beyond the borders of the state. The crisis in Delhi has vastly accelerated Mayawati growing up into a national leader acceptable to other parties who can be her future allies.
Similarly, it will be a crucial learning curve for the Marxists as they interact with a leader like Mayawati who champions a social constituency of the poor and oppressed. The Left should be far more comfortable with her than the landed oppressor castes that Mulayam Singh Yadav represented.
They are fortunate that the Dalit leader today embraces ‘Sarvajana Samaj’ virtually espousing the importance of class over caste, making it much easier to prevent any ideological disconnect between the new allies. The Left must also learn not to get upset by her diamonds and mansions and accept the personal eccentricities of leaders of victim communities.
The wide array of regional parties that are flocking under the Mayawati banner sense that their time may be coming as the political bankruptcy of the two mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP, become apparent. Most of them recognise that both the ancient regimes represented by the Gandhi family and the party that seeks to replace it are jaded. Not surprisingly, regional parties — not only those who have banded today as the Third Front but several who are still with the UPA and the NDA — have been sending quiet feelers to bail them out of their present coalitions.
As for the BJP, the trust vote has left the party scarred and demoralised. The many defections from the saffron ranks must be galling for a political organisation that — not so long ago — used to pride itself on discipline and high moral standards. The absence of a political titan like AB Vajpayee at its helm and the lack of a master operative like Pramod Mahajan have made the BJP look fragile and vulnerable.
This is not to suggest that the BJP is finished. But there is little doubt that with an increasingly perplexed LK Advani in charge, the party may not simply have the political gumption or the drive to ascend the throne of Delhi in the near future. This may well have to wait for a time when the Congress is extinguished in its efforts to emulate the BJP and when younger and more dynamic leaders like Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley have come much more into play.
The current euphoria over the UPA’s victory in the trust vote has no doubt electrified the establishment as well as a section of the upper-middle class that dominates the TV channels through their SMS messages.
But it would be unwise to mistake them for the electorate who constitute a much wider audience. They too have their own agenda and it would be interesting to see how the far more vital numbers game in the elections play out in the not-too- distant future.
Ajoy Bose is the author of Behnji: A Political Biography of Mayawati