New Delhi: On Monday, members of the government and the Opposition traded charges in Parliament ahead of Tuesday’s crucial trust vote that will determine whether the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, continues to stay in power.
Seizing the opportunity: A file photo of Bahujan Samaj Party leader and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati in New Delhi.
Irrespective of who wins and who loses, however, one politician has taken centre stage and suddenly assumed prime ministerial stature.
In her first major statement on foreign policy, 52-year old Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, said: “The government and the Prime Minister should not make the deal (Indo-US nuclear deal) a prestige issue. They should suspend the deal for the time being. Elections are near. Let the next government take a decision on it.”
Mayawati, whose party has risen to its current position riding a platform of social justice that has found appeal among the so-called backward classes, also linked the nuclear deal to the India-Iran gas pipeline project.
She added that the nuclear deal might affect the pipeline, as Washington is acting in a “dangerous” manner with regard to Tehran.
On Monday, and over the weekend, it became clear that Mayawati, whose party has 17 representatives in the Lok Sabha, had become the rallying point for a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, government-in-the-making.
This emerging grouping is opposed both to the nuclear deal with the US, which has led to the current crisis (the UPA wants it; its former ally the Left Front didn’t and withdrew support to the government over the issue), and to the BJP.
Political analysts say that this emerging grouping that includes the Left Front and the BSP will mutually help all constituent parties and, specifically, help Mayawati get rid of the “casteist” tag she and her party have. For the first time, the Left (Front) has given legitimacy to a party associated with Dalits at a national level, (and) because of this gesture Mayawati is being projected as a national leader. The Left (Front) is a cementing factor which will help attract other parties to Mayawati,” said Vivek Kumar, a Delhi-based sociologist.
It isn’t entirely a one-way transaction, Kumar added. “The Left (Front) will also draw legitimacy from the BSP, since it is being perceived by many as aligning with the bourgeoisie, especially after Nandigram and Singur incidents. An alliance with the BSP, a party of the most oppressed sections of society, will lend the Left (Front) some legitimacy too.”
The Left Front’s pro-worker and pro-farmer image took a beating when its government in West Bengal acquired land, some of it forcibly, in Singur and Nandigram to help construct a Tata Motors plant and a special economic zone, respectively.
Signs of the new grouping first emerged on Sunday afternoon during a luncheon meeting of the Telugu Desam Party, the Left Front and the BSP. The grouping will meet on 23 July, after the trust vote, with partners such as the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, or RLD, to arrive at a common ground to fight the next elections, which could be anywhere from six months to a year away depending on who wins the trust vote.
PM in making? Mayawati with CPM’s Prakash Karat (centre) and TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu on Sunday.
“Uttar Pradesh is the state with the most number of seats. The formidable caste coalition that Mayawati has put together is going to be hard to beat. Moreover, the BSP has a structural presence in most states and appeal with a particular social group (Dalits), which can be capitalized on,” said Kumar.
Chennai-based political analyst Krishnananth, however, dismisses the chances of a long-term alliance between members of this grouping. The analyst, who goes by one name, said: “The coalition may not last till the next election. It has come together to pull down the government. How can Chandrababu Naidu (the Telugu Desam Party leader) and Chandrashekar Rao (the Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader) reconcile their differences (over separate statehood for the Telangana region)? Why is the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK, which is a major force in Tamil Nadu, not in the coalition? Because it does not have a presence in the Lok Sabha? So, the coalition is more about pulling down the government than fighting elections.” Still, the new grouping may help Mayawati score over arch rival and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav at least in the medium term, added Krishnananth. Yadav has traditionally tried to project himself as the leader of a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.
Should the government win the trust vote, it will likely continue with an ongoing investigation into Mayawati’s source of funds.