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Mayawati beneficiary of Congress-Left standoff

July 25, 2008

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Complete coverage: The trust vote

The political drama surrounding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] triumph in the Lok Sabha trust vote is hogging the headlines. But the real implications of the past week's unprecedented events go well beyond who won or lost the numbers game and whether television images of currency note waving MPs in the well of the House have tarred the image of Indian democracy.

Indeed, it is the sharp polarisation of politics brought about by the contest in Parliament that would ultimately be far more important than what now occupies our attention.

The most striking aspect of the manner in which Dr Singh, clearly backed by the Gandhi family, has behaved over the past few weeks is the reversal of a facade cultivated by the Congress for so many decades. Almost overnight, this lip service to both non-alignment and social democracy has been cast aside by the prime minister's decisive break with the Left and his promise of unfettered market reforms. Nothing better illustrates this brazen approach than the way the government rode American backing and corporate muscle to victory in Parliament.

Incredibly, the Congress has chosen to embrace American influence and corporate agendas in an election year and that too at a time of high inflation and public disaffection. It underlines the power of Dr Singh's backers as well as the desperation of the Congress leadership. Much in the manner in which a previous Congress prime minister P V Narasimha Rao sought to play the hawala card quite uncharacteristic to his nature, we now see the till now politically timid duo of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi [Images] and Dr Singh undertake a high risk gamble.

This has clearly flabbergasted the Bharatiya Janata Party who were the original claimants to represent American and corporate interests in this country. Ironically, the BJP was rejected in the last elections for espousing precisely the policies that the Congress today has made its credo. Not surprisingly, the BJP finds it difficult to fight what suspiciously looks like its own mirror image.

Yet, what is more important than the re-invention of the Congress is the countervailing political storm that is gathering on the horizon as we approach the next parliamentary polls. On the face of it, the motley collection of regional parties joining hands with a wounded Left Front appears to a pathetic replay of discredited Third Front politics. But what gives this fledgeling Opposition alliance posing as an alternative to both the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance a new mass appeal is the emergence of Dalit firebrand Mayawati as its spearhead.

The significance of Mayawati's participation in Third Front politics can hardly be minimised. Everybody agrees that that her occupation of the centrestage through the political drama that surrounded the trust vote has given the BSP supremo a larger than life national profile. But what may well be more important for her evolution is the political maturity that she is bound to gain from interacting closely with the Left Front as well as other regional parties.

For Mayawati, the path she has traversed in the past week is a new one. Unlike her mentor Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has never been fond of hobnobbing with other leaders of other political parties. She has stayed away from coalition politics of any kind, particularly the Third Front variety. This lonely furrow she ploughed was very successful in Uttar Pradesh where the BSP built its own mass base over two decades but the same isolation was a handicap as the Dalit leader sought to spread herself beyond the borders of India's largest state.

Almost as if the fates were conspiring with each other to help enhance her stature, the sudden escalation of the standoff between the Congress and the Left has accelerated Mayawati's political trajectory. It has helped her to grow almost overnight into a national leader acceptable to a whole range of other parties who can be her future allies.

The emerging alliance with Mayawati will also provide a steep learning curve for comrade Prakash Karat [Images] and the Leftists who have for long sneered at what they regarded as obsolete casteist politics. However, the Left should be far more comfortable with constituency of poor and oppressed people that the BSP leader champions rather than the landed oppressors which Mulayam Singh Yadav [Images] and Amar Singh [Images] represented. In any case, the fact the Mayawati of today espouses the cause of Sarvajana Samaj including poor upper castes, almost echoing the Leftist emphasis on class over caste, should make it easier for the Left Front to connect with her even on an ideological front.

The Mayawati banner is also attracting a wide array of regional parties who sense that their time may be coming as the political bankruptcy of the two mainstream parties, the Congress and BJP, becomes more and more palpable. Most of them recognise that both the ancien regime represented by the Gandhi family and the party that seeks to replace it, are jaded and faded.

Not surprisingly, even regional parties who are still with the UPA and the NDA have been sending quiet feelers to bail out of their existing coalitions. For instance, the Akalis, who are keen to dump the BJP, are believed to be quite keen to have an alliance with the BSP, considering that Punjab has such a huge percentage of Dalits.

As for the BJP, the trust vote has left the party deeply scarred and demoralised. The absence of a political titan like Atal Behari Vajpayee at its helm and the lack of master operative like Pramod Mahahan has made the BJP look fragile and vulnerable. With an increasingly perplexed Lal Krishan Advani [Images] in charge, the party may not simply have the political gumption or the drive to ascend the throne of Delhi in the near future. This may well have to wait for a time when the Congress is extinguished in its efforts to emulate the BJP and when younger and more dynamic leaders like Narendra Modi [Images] and Arun Jaitley have taken over the leadership.

The current euphoria over the UPA government's victory in the Lok Sabha trust vote has no doubt electrified the establishment as well as a section of the upper middle class that dominates the television channels through their SMS messages. But it would be unwise to mistake them for the electorate who constitute a much wider audience. They too have their own agenda and it would be interesting to see how the numbers game plays out when it really matters -- in the elections that loom in the not too distant future.

Ajoy Bose is a senior journalist whose book on Mayawati, Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati, was published in May this year 

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