May Queen? Ball Rolling for Mayawati

Akbar Khan

Bhopal, May 3, 2009

Surging ahead on a socially-engineered Dalit Rath, Bahujan Samaj Party chief and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati just might squeeze past competition for the top office on Race Course Road, if she manages to repeat her party performance in the 2007 state assembly elections and her political opponents, both parties and groupings, are hit by the enemy within.

With the traditional media focus hovering around other aspirants for the top post, Mayawati with the command of over 200 assembly segments in UP, arguably the most vital electoral battlefield in the country, has shunned attention and concentrated on the job at hand – to emerge as the largest party in the state and perhaps, the most formidable regional force.

Despite aspersions over the longevity of the social engineering strategy – the efficacy of the move, which shook up political opponents by stirring the politically marginalized upper caste Brahmins with her own Dalit vote-bank, is undisputable.

Ushering in single party rule in the state after a hiatus of 14 years, the huge BSP victory in the state assembly elections in May 2007 sent arch-rivals Samajwadi Party seeking cover ‘behind’ the Congress-led government at the Center.

The SP under Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh earned momentary respite by resuscitating the UPA government at the Center after first Mayawati and then the Left parties pulled the plug on the Manmohan Singh government, over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The SP, after months of personal attacks on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, relented with support after sensing respite from the BSP onslaught and analysing benefits of a pre-poll alliance with the Congress for the UP Lok Sabha elections.

Considered close to a top Congress functionary, the SP, ostensibly, got caught in the midst of a faction feud within the grand old party, which hoping to better poll showings in the heartland ruled out possibilities of a pre-poll deal in the state at the eleventh hour.

With poll preparations out of gear, the SP trekked further up the creek by inching closer to former BJP man and erstwhile chief minister Kalyan Singh, who the state’s sizable minority voters blame for the 1992 demolition of the disputed 16th century structure at Ayodhya and the ensuing violence.

While the SP campaign struggled to inspire confidence in minority voters, who along with the backward castes were responsible for the meteoric rise of the party. Mayawati was prompt to collect the SP losses by initiating stringent action against Varun Gandhi for his alleged speeches.

The Congress on its part, despite nurturing ambitions of an electoral comeback in the state, has stopped short of launching a tirade against the BSP state government, a strategy it stuck to across all non-Congress governed states. The politically astute attribute the tactic to Mayawati’s poker faced ploy of playing her post-election cards close to her chest.

Largely viewed as part of the Left-led Third Front, Mayawati has kept allies and opponents guessing by refusing to indicate her future game plan. The ploy has paid rich dividends and earned present respite for Mayawati, from parties fostering hopes of a future alliance.

If the Third Front manages the numbers, Mayawati, if she emerges with support in the heartland, is almost sure to emerge as the grouping’s top choice for the post of prime minister. But the situation could turn out to be a little more delectable if indications of a pretty evenly poised spread hold true when poll results come in on May 16.

A clear split of parliamentary seats between the Congress, BJP and an amalgam of regional parties could bring the contest down to the wires and the nerve-racking end to the poll season could widen the rifts in various political outfits that unwittingly and repeatedly expressed differences in opinion during the current elections.

Recently at least one top CPI-M leader acceded to possibilities of the Left parties not just lending support to the Congress-led alliance, but also indicated that the comrades may join the government rather than lending outside support.

The claim was immediately rebutted by another top party functionary, who is said to be the ideological driving force behind the Third Front.

Trouble between the Congress and its ‘secular’ UPA allies is also a case in point that may see at least one, if not more, not cut the grade the next time around.

The fact that Mayawati and Mulayam Singh cannot stand on the same side of a government is undisputable, the same holds true for the Left parties and Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and the DMK – AIADMK or the JD(U) and RJD.

With the BJP already in the midst of a debate over its choice of projected prime minister for the 2014 elections and the Congress looking for a smooth change of guard in the party and time to address the bazillion faction feuds in the party, 2009 just might turn out to be Mayawati’s year, especially as her victory in the state elections – around the same time in 2007 – proved her to be the undisputed ‘May queen’ of Indian politics.

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