Even as television images of currency notes being waved inside the Lok Sabha wounded the credibility of the UPA government’s victory in the trust vote and stained both Indian mainstream parties--Congress and the BJP, a new political storm is gathering in the lead up to the not so distant general elections.
And that is the emergence of a larger-than-life Mayawati, who, despite seeing her efforts to topple the UPA fail, appears to be the real victor of a contest that has left more losers than winners.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh now stuck with a crown of thorns and his main opponent, the BJP’s LK Advani appearing as a poor loser, it is the Dalit leader who may well become the focal point of the movement to try oust the government that is bound to follow in the coming months.
This is a quantum leap forward for a leader who remained a regional phenomenon even after her spectacular victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls last year. Mawati’s potential had already started casting a long shadow on Indian politics. But, until now, she has had a marginal role to play in the cut and thrust of national politics dominated as it has been by the Congress, BJP and the Left.
Now, there are clear indications that Mayawati may become the spearhead of a combined campaign by the Left Front and the UNPA, along with a whole range of smaller parties and independents, to oust the Congress-led coalition.This first started with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s visit to Maywati’s residence and has been followed by a chorus of support for her from a host of regional leaders and parties, some of whom have to gone to extent of naming her as the future Prime Minister.
This has huge symbolic value for the BSP supremo since it is the first time that any party, except her own, has proposed the Dalit leader’s name for the top job.
With Mayawati and the BSP so far always determinedly staying away from any Third Front formation or national party-led coalition, this new political interaction is of enormous significance.
It is true that the defeat of the opposition on the floor of the Lok Sabha, with 275 votes cast in support of the UPA, has underlined her inability to trigger of a major revolt in the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in the face of such huge resources at the disposal of the government. But, there is no question that while BJP stalwarts, such as Advani and Rajnath Singh, were almost passive spectators toward the end, it was Mayawati who waged the battle on behalf of the opposition almost single handed.
The survival of the Singh government in the trust vote is of course a temporary setback to Mayawati who would have preferred to topple the current regime on the floor of the Lok Sabha. It could bring in its wake considerable personal harassment in the shape of a vigorous pursuit by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of the disproportionate assets case against her, if the Congress decides it is pay-back time, at the prodding of the Samajwadi Party.
But, considering the fog of bribery charges shrouding the trust vote, the government no longer has the moral high ground to indict any ppposition leader on corruption, at least not until the Congress gets a fresh mandate from the people. It is here that the central role played by the BSP leader in the Opposition campaign to unseat the Singh government will be a major political asset to her. She has already managed to get support from virtually every party in the opposition including the NDA, Left Front and the UNPA, on the fresh CBI bid to prosecute her. This would have been unimaginable even a few weeks ago.
Any attempt by the CBI to pester the Dalit leader could become politically counter-productive for the government particularly if she is a prominent leader of an opposition campaign that will continue to allege corruption and vote buying by the UPA. In any case, with national elections but a few months away, even perfectly valid cases against Mayawati will appear as political vendetta.
There is a growing impression that Mayawati holds the key to the future of Indian politics. Her new-found stature with regional parties and the Left, along with her old contacts in the BJP and the RSS, provides her a huge number of options that will come in very useful after the next Lok Sabha elections. It is doubtful whether the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh or the Congress can now signficantly change political arithmetic at the grassroots level.
Finally, one should not underestimate the reaction of Dalit voters across the country to television images of Mayawati leading the current conflict against the UPA regime. Already an icon particularly among young Dalits beyond Uttar Pradesh, the more the BSP leader steps out of her state to do battle, the more she and her party gains ground within her core constituency across India.
Considering that Congress is heavily dependent on the Dalit vote in many states in the country, this spells significant trouble for the ruling party in the next elections.
Ajoy Bose is the author of Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org