Three women politicians may well decide who rules India next when elections to the Lok Sabha are held next year (in April-May). The three are Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerji.
The threesome have little voice in the present Lok Sabha. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has no representation, while Mamata Banerji is the lone member of her party, the Trinamool Congress. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has 17 members of Parliament (MPs). In the next Lok Sabha, I reckon these three women politicians could together command as many as 80 to 100 MPs and thus play a pivotal role in deciding who comes to power.
The prospect of a fractured mandate appears likely as none of the three pre-poll formations—namely, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance and the Left Front-supported so-called Third Front — seems to have what it takes to secure a majority or even come within striking distance of power. Given this, the role of these women politicians will likely become very crucial.
The three have much in common. They are gutsy, strong-willed, care little for niceties and unabashedly pursue their political ambitions.
Mayawati’s ratings soar
Feedback from grass-roots level suggests that Mayawati’s rating as a prime ministerial candidate has galloped in the last two weeks with Dalits around the country beginning to see her as a prime ministerial prospect after the events leading to the trust vote. The soaring popularity of Mayawati is disturbing news for the Congress whose loss could be BJP’s gain and the Third Front that compete head-to-head with the Congress.
While Mayawati’s BSP may not win any seats outside Uttar Pradesh, she has the capacity to help her allies secure crucial Dalit votes. According to current reckoning, Mayawati is likely to win anywhere between 35 and 55 seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Jayalalithaa is a suave and sophisticated politician but is hard to understand and partner. She has been keeping the BJP leadership on tenterhooks about a possible alliance. She is forging a formidable pre-election alliance to make a strong comeback in the Lok Sabha polls and has roped in the Pattali Makkal Katchi, a UPA partner at the Centre.
Jayalalithaa has kept her alliance options open and will take decisions that could help her end the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) reign in the state. According to current calculations, the AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu could win 20-35 seats, which would see her emerge a strong player at the Centre.
Mamata Banerji has been attempting to break the Left Front’s stranglehold on West Bengal for more than a decade after founding the Trinamool Congress. Her party’s impressive performance in the recent elections to urban local bodies and panchayats in West Bengal has unnerved the Left Front. She has finally begun making inroads into rural Bengal and could win 10 to 18 seats in the Lok Sabha polls. She has joined forces with rebel Congress leader Somen Mitra who has floated his regional party recently and will stay away from both the BJP and the Congress until elections.
Mayawati’s BSP is likely to remain in the “Third Front” until Lok Sabha elections but may well chart her own course after the elections. She will not be acceptable as a prime ministerial candidate to either the Congress or the BJP; nor would she be acceptable to Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerji. Mayawati will be expected to support someone who can protect her interests and bail her out from a multitude of cases that have been filed against her.
Jayalalithaa is likely to support a government that would promise to end the Karunanidhi regime in the state and give her share of the power structure. Mamata Banerji, given her rivalry with the Left Front at home, cannot support a government that is dependent on support of Left parties.
What does this mean to the prime ministerial candidates? Even if the Congress manages sufficient numbers to stake a claim for power again, which appears doubtful, it cannot hope to get the support of the BSP after slapping cases against Mayawati and warming up to her bitter rival, the Samajwadi Party. Jayalalithaa will be prepared to back the Congress party only if it is willing to break with its current ally the DMK.
NDA’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani has dealt with all these three women politicians as coalition partners and has cordial relations with them. His ability to charm them now — particularly after Mayawati herself has grown in ambition — will determine Advani’s chances in moving to 7, Race Course Road.
The three women politicians may well decide if a stable government takes office at the Centre after the next Lok Sabha polls.
The prospect of a government surviving on the support of three powerful, maverick women politicians is worrying but it may well turn out to be real.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.