New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s call to divide the state she rules into smaller states could be an attempt to checkmate Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s campaign to revive his party in India’s most populous state, where the battle lines between the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) grow sharper by the day.

] Thinking small: Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BSP chief Mayawati at a rally in Kolkata on 21 April. She has renewed her demand to trifurcate the state into Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Harit Pradesh. Parth Sanyal / Reuters

Senior Congress leaders and political analysts admit that Mayawati’s demand was an “intelligent political move" to counter the Congress game plan of administratively dividing the state into four parts, with one Union minister in charge of each division.

“It (Mayawati’s decision to revive demands for a division of Uttar Pradesh) is an intelligent political plan. But the BSP is not a party which is going to be a permanent threat to the Congress," said a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified.

Under Gandhi’s ambitious plan to reclaim his party’s lost glory in the state, minister of state (MoS) for rural development Pradeep Jain takes care of party affairs in Bundelkhand; MoS for road transport and highways R.P.N. Singh is in charge of Poorvanchal; MoS for corporate affairs Salman Khursheed is in charge of Harit Pradesh; and Union coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal is responsible for the rest of Uttar Pradesh.

Mayawati has demanded the creation of Poorvanchal (eastern Uttar Pradesh), Bundelkhand (comprising areas of southern Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) and Harit Pradesh (western Uttar Pradesh). The BSP chief’s announcement came close on the heels of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s decision to support the creation of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh.

Although the Congress publicly brushed it off as “politicking", senior leaders admitted that the BSP chief had stunned the party and upset their Rahul Gandhi-led mission for the state.

“Mayawati is voicing the demands because she knows that the proposals are neither feasible nor economically viable," said Congress general secretary and Rajya Sabha member Satyavrat Chaturvedi.

The Congress, which has already been upset with the state government over the “controversies" it was trying to create after Rahul Gandhi’s frequent visits to the state, issued several statements criticizing Mayawati’s moves.

Maintaining that the party was not against small states, Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said in a veiled reference to the the chief minister, “But we will not support such demands just to fulfil political aspirations of someone."

Congress leaders also claimed Mayawati’s politics was driven by fear created after Gandhi started gaining “confidence and trust of Dalits" in the state.

The BSP, however, says the party has always stood for smaller states.

“We believe smaller states can be administered better. In 1995 and 1997, Uttar Pradesh assembly passed resolutions for Uttarakhand when the BSP was in power. In fact, Rahul Gandhi has hijacked our plan to divide the state for administrative purposes," said Ambeth Rajan, national treasurer of the BSP.

Badri Narayan, an Uttar Pradesh political analyst, said that the political battle in the state is now between the BSP and the Congress. “The Samajwadi Party (the state’s main opposition party) is losing ground and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have any hold here. Polarization of non-Dalits, the majority community and the Muslims will favour the Congress. If the Congress succeeds in taking a share in Dalit votes, as Rahul Gandhi is trying successfully to an extent, it will be a major gain for the Congress."

However, Narayan adds that the BSP chief also has changed her strategies. “Mayawati is trying to focus on Sarvajan. She no longer talks about Dalits only. Besides, a majority of Dalits are emotionally attached to Mayawati. She is also trying to woo the middle class."

Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor of political science at Delhi University, added that the BSP does not have any long-term plans. “Mayawati is not a politician in the traditional mode. She does not think of the BSP after her," Chakrabarty said.

“Mayawati has no second-rung leaders and Rahul Gandhi has no cadre in Uttar Pradesh. So, it is difficult to say who will succeed in their game plans," Narayan added.

Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.