BSP supremo Mayawati is at the pole position as the UP assembly election enters the last lap on Tuesday. If we go by Mayawati’s assessment, she appears confident of forming the next government without outside support. Analysts feel that if the BSP crosses the 160-seat mark, it will be difficult to stop Mayawati from becoming the chief minister. Politics, however, is a game of uncertainties: the Dalit leader could be thrown out of the race if she fails to come near the 150-seat mark.
Mayawati’s emergence as the front-runner may not suit the Samajwadi Party, the BJP or the Congress. It is well-known that Mayawati doesn’t share good relations with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, and the only time SP henchmen were reined in was during her previous stint as the CM. The BJP does not trust her and her relations with Kalyan Singh are not good. The grapevine in UP is that Kalyan Singh and the SP may jointly try to keep her out of the reckoning, though the RSS wants the BJP to stay away from such alliances.
The Congress will be the worst sufferer if Mayawati wins because the BSP vote-bank comprises upper castes, Dalits and Muslims, the very combination that kept the Congress buoyant in UP. But the party has no one but itself to blame for its plight in the state: the party squandered its advantage in UP by entering into an alliance with the BSP in 1996. If the BSP manages to win UP, it will start eating into the Congress’s vote-bank in other states as well. Political compulsions, however, may leave the Congress with no choice but to back Mayawati if she requires it. This is because the Congress would not want to be seen as a party which stopped a Dalit leader’s rise to power.
Later, the Congress may try to checkmate her by propping up a Dalit leader at the national level. One such person could be the Union Power Minister and former CM of Maharashtra, Sushil Kumar Shinde. Shinde, who has held important positions in the Congress, was the party’s candidate in the last vice-presidential polls. Since the presidential and vice-presidential elections are going to be held soon after the UP polls, Shinde could be propped up for an important position. Even though it is premature to speculate on Shinde’s future role, the Congress may reserve an important position for him. Shinde may be the Congress’s way of balancing things if Mayawati wins in UP. However, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip and the speculation over who could be the next CM or whether President’s rule is the only way out may continue for quite sometime, at least till the results are out on May 11. The exit polls, if they are correct, have said the BSP, the BJP and the SP are locked in a close race. The Congress, of course, is a distant fourth and is not expected to be a claimant to the throne.
In the past, the BSP and the BJP, the BSP and the SP, and, the BSP and the Congress have forged alliances with one another either for contesting polls or sharing power. But relations between the BSP and the SP deteriorated when Mulayam Singh, allegedly with the help of the BJP Speaker (now UP party chief) Kesarinath Tripathi, managed to get the support of BSP MLAs after they defected to the SP. He was able to carry on as the CM with the help of these MLAs and many more whom he enlisted during his tenure. Mulayam Singh knows that if Mayawati comes to power, he would be the worst hit because she might register cases against him and his supporters. Keeping that in mind, the UP CM may go to any length to keep Mayawati out. There is already a talk that some of Mayawati’s MLAs might quit the party after they are elected in order to keep her tally down. Whether they will do so at someone’s behest is a matter of speculation. But it is unlikely that any MLA will give up his seat if Mayawati is within striking distance of power.
Another twist in the script, which can have a bearing on national politics, involves Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and his party’s performance. It may appear a laughable option, but if the RLD gets enough numbers, which could help the BJP and the SP to cross the halfway mark of 202, he can be a strong contender for the CM’s post. Remember how Chandra Shekhar with Congress’s support became the PM despite having only 55-odd MPs behind him. A similar model with Ajit Singh at the helm and the BJP and the SP supporting is an option. In such a scenario, the party with more MLAs will possibly get the Speaker’s position. This way, the BJP and the SP will not support each other yet prop up a government minus Mayawati and the Congress. Such an arrangement will give breathing space to all except Mayawati.
If that happens, it will be something akin to what happened with the VP Singh government: the Left and the BJP, ideologically opposed to each other, decided to come together to keep the Congress out. In the case of VP Singh, he had some MPs but Chandra Shekhar, who broke away from him, did not even have that. In parliamentary democracy, it’s a numbers game. But all these combinations and permutations could fall through if Mayawati performs well. Between us.