As the nation’s pundits and pollsters prepare to eat crow, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s thumping victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections confirms one thing: reports of the death of one-party rule in Indian politics were greatly exaggerated. If no one expected Mayawati to cross the 200-mark to form the first majority government in UP since 1991, it was because of the dogma that politics in India, especially UP, has become too fragmented for a single party to rustle up the required electoral support. As the results show, Mayawati has not only been able to pull the rug from under Mulayam Singh Yadav’s feet, she has also been successful in not letting anyone invade the rug-space that she now comfortably occupies. The BSP’s political canniness was epitomised by Mayawati throwing open its doors to non-Dalits, to UP’s powerful and disgruntled Brahmins in particular. It was always clear that the ‘Bahujan Samaj’ would not be perturbed by this ‘reaching out’ experiment. The question that remained was whether the upper castes were going to reciprocate Mayawati’s overtures. They have, and at the expense of the BJP, which finds itself practically in the wilderness because of a fractured leadership and disastrous poll management. The electoral verdict is all the more humiliating for the BJP since its president Rajnath Singh was projected as a political stalwart from UP.
The Mulayam Singh Yadav government’s desperate attempts to project development as its calling card was not hard to reject, considering that the ‘Potemkin projects’ touted by the government did not result in ‘UP Shining’. But what hung around the Samajwadi Party’s neck like an albatross was the complete absence of law and order in the state. This antipathy to the ruling SP submerged whatever traditional ‘vote-bank’ calculations the party may have hoped would come to its rescue.
If the BJP finds itself picking up the pieces, the Congress finds itself still hunting for any pieces to pick up. The highly visible campaigning by Rahul Gandhi was never supposed to recreate pre-1989 UP. But the Congress had hoped that the state party would be galvanised and there would be an end to the micro-level bickerings that have pulled it down. Though the cadres may have got activated, this did not convert into a significantly higher vote percentage for the party. It would be wise of the party leadership to introspect — instead of taking the lazy option of making statements that it would offer “external support to the BSP if necessary”.
Mayawati is now in charge of UP. Her record of being tough against crime and lawlessness will be tested. But will she learn from her past mistakes? With Mayawati’s ‘inclusive politics’ having paid off at the hustings, the BSP now has the Dalits, Muslims and upper castes — pretty much the pre-Mandal-kamandal ‘Congress combination’ cutting across communities — as its ‘audience’. So it’s unlikely that this time round, as Chief Minister, she will try to palm off erecting Ambedkar statues and renaming streets as development. The people of UP tasted the fruits of identity politics and have found them unsavoury. What they now want is real development, electricity, infrastructure, and safety from criminal elements both in society and politics. It is a tall task for Mayawati, the perennial ‘kingmaker’. But as ‘monarch’ in 2007, she now has the overwhelming mandate to act.