The decision of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh to give Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati a clear majority in the assembly and an opportunity to rule India's most populous state for five years with no crutches or obstacles has not been an overnight development.
The defeat of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in the latest election, and also the reverses for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, has not surprised many in the state, whatever the reaction in the national capital may be.
According to political analysts, three factors contributed to the downfall of Yadav and singularly helped Mayawati in the same proportion.
The most important factor was the law and order situation in the state. The situation was so bad that the Samajwadi Party had to secure the services of its best friend actor Amitabh Bachchan to make people think otherwise.
"UP mein hai dum, kyunki jurm yahan hai kam (Uttar Pradesh has promise,because crime rate and atrocities are low)," Bachchan was seen saying in the commercial on major TV channels.
Referring to people with criminal records as members of Samajwadi Party, a Congress leader criticised the campaign and queried: "How hollow it sounds when you have for company people like Raja Bhaiya and Amarmani Tripathi?"
One thing always distinguished the Mayawati regime each of the three times she assumed power earlier, albeit with the BJP's support. She dealt firmly with the police and the general law and order machinery.
During the campaign for the 1997 assembly polls, an upper-caste (Thakur) police officer from Muzaffarnagar complained: "Under her regime, you had to give the first priority to registering a case under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Atrocities Act over a murder case."
That was 10 years ago and Mayawati has considerably mellowed down on Sunday. But to protect her voters among the poor, the Dalits (former untouchables) and the most backward class, it is incumbent upon her to provide an effective and efficient law and order machinery.
Good and efficient police and administration also impresses the average middle class urban voter who may belong to upper caste, but they have neither the time nor the resources to secure justice and fair play from corrupt and inefficient law and order machinery.
As for the BJP, a senior leader of the party conceded: "Our urban upper-caste voters saw no difference between the Mulayam Singh Yadav government and the previous regimes of Rajnath Singh and Kalyan Singh."
He said politicians with criminal charges against them such as Raja Bhaiya and Tripathi were once a part of the successive BJP regimes from 1991 to 2002.
The second factor that annoyed a large section of traditional Samajwadi Party supporters - the rural, land-owning middle castes - was the "crony capitalism" of Yadav.
As his former confidant KC Tyagi put it: "This party of the working class, the backwards, the Dalits and minorities inspired by Ram Manohar Lohia, Charan Singh and Karpuri Thakur changed its class character."
The presence of high life-loving party general secretary Amar Singh, actors Jayaprada, Bachchan and his wife Jaya Bachchan, and industrialists Anil Ambani and Subroto Roy in the company of Yadav did not go down well with his traditional voters, Tyagi said.
At the same time, these voters did not turn to the BJP when the recent elections to the assembly gave them a chance. "Subroto Roy's projects were being given a priority even during Rajnath Singh's regime. So why should people vote for us if they are rejecting Mulayam Singh for the same thing?" a BJP leader wondered.
The third is, of course, the caste factor.
Uttar Pradesh has been among the most polarised states in terms of caste. The BJP rode to power in the state in 1991 over the "Savarnas" (upper-caste) resistance to the rise of the backwards in the wake of the Mandal Commission's recommendations.
Ostensibly the reason was all about building a Ram temple in Ayodhya, but the real factor behind the rise of BJP then was the hope of returning an upper-caste party to power. Also, after Rajiv Gandhi was killed, they lost all hope of the Congress party saving them from the rise of the backward castes.
After the first wave of enthusiasm, however, they realised that the BJP was not offering them anything different. It would either foist upon the Aryavart (India of higher caste), a Lodh Rajput Kalyan Singh, or support a Jatav Dalit Mayawati from outside, giving them no hope of the return of a Brahmin/Savarna rule in the Hindi heartland.
"Our voters felt we were competing with Mulayam," said a senior BJP leader, on the party's decision to project Kalyan Singh as chief ministerial candidate.
"Given that choice, the voter felt why vote for them. Mayawati is any day better than them. At least she is open about her leanings and has no pretensions," he said, conceding the BJP failed to convince the electorate that it was the right alternative to Yadav.
If the Savarnas had to be ruled by a Dalit or backward, why do they need the BJP or Congress, wondered one political analyst.
The voters gave good numbers to Samajwadi Party the last time and did not entirely desert the party during the current elections. They chose Mayawati as an alternative to the recalcitrant Yadav and established a direct bridge with the Dalit leader. With this they also increasingly demonstrated the irrelevance of two national parties - the Congress and the BJP - in Uttar Pradesh.