As in 2007, a highly organised regional party with strong local leadership and a committed vote bank reaped an anti-incumbency sentiment in Uttar Pradesh.
Decisive verdicts in two successive assembly polls of Uttar Pradesh in favour of regional parties, first to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and now the Samajwadi Party (SP), have enormous political implications at the state as well as national level. As both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fade in a State not so long ago destined by analysts to fractured mandates and hung assemblies it appears to be settling down into a steadier contest between the regional heavyweights. Ironically this is likely to fuel further instability at the Centre, considerably weakening the clout of the two national parties because of their growing irrelevance in India's most populous and politically noteworthy State.
2007 and 2012
There is uncanny resemblance between the current assembly poll verdict in Uttar Pradesh and the one five years ago. In both cases, highly organised parties with prominent local leadership and committed vote banks were able to become the chief beneficiaries of anti-incumbency sentiments against the leader and party in the saddle. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, where caste and community play a particularly important role, the elections were also a fascinating reflection of the ongoing social conflict across the State.
If in 2007, a motley group of upper castes led by Brahmins created a ‘hawa' in favour of Mayawati and the BSP to get rid of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party, the same social combine showed remarkable skill in achieving exactly the reverse this time. Despite their inability to rule themselves any more, the upper castes now take perverse pleasure in breaking and making governments at election time. They manage to get little concrete benefit from this powerbroker role as evident from the way they were ruthlessly dumped by Mayawati. Although they are likely to suffer the same fate at the hands of the Yadav clan this does not deter them from playing their political games.
Interestingly, Mayawati has chosen to blame the Muslims rather than the upper castes in her first comments on her election debacle. Her claim that over 70 per cent of Muslims voted for the SP and the upper caste vote got fragmented helping her main political rival reveals that her expectations from the minority community were far more than from the Brahmins whatever her close aide Satish Mishra may have promised. The fact of the matter is that her Sarvajan project seeking to stitch a rainbow alliance across the caste and community spectrum collapsed long ago before it could even actually take off and the BSP supremo has to go back to the political drawing board to craft a new plan.
However what remains to the ousted Chief Minister's advantage despite her massive defeat is the continuing loyalty of her Jatav vote bank. This is the main reason why she has been able to get 26 per cent vote share just four per cent less than Mulayam Singh Yadav, although the SP's far better conversion of vote share into seats has given him just a huge lead in the Assembly. As a matter of fact, there is good reason to believe that her core support base has now transformed into a political vanguard that was such a visible and vociferous presence in the just concluded elections.
Yet, it is not enough for Mayawati to rest content with her galvanised Jatavs, influential and numerous as the community may be in Uttar Pradesh. As the elections brutally exposed, having the most enthusiastic and best attended election meetings during the campaign still did not prevent Mayawati from crashing to an ignominious defeat. It means that unless she is able to get the support of a more substantive segment of Muslims and lower backward castes, the Dalit leader will have to depend on the whims and fancies of the upper caste power brokers to ascend the throne in Lucknow again. This is a daunting task and perhaps a spell outside administrative power will be an advantage.
As for Mulayam Singh Yadav, his amazing comeback after slipping into a deep political coma is undoubtedly a huge boost. However, to sustain this political success, he needs to first rescue the SP from the clutches of medieval barons like his brother Shivpal Yadav and then reinvent it into a modern party. He is aged and ailing. But his son Akhilesh, looks affable, articulate and more than willing. It remains to be seen whether he has the political muscle to drive the heavy Yadav truck. If the violent revelry by SP goons that erupted even as the last results were coming in is any indication, it would be a difficult if not impossible task.
The national parties
The pathetic performance of the Congress in U.P., added to the party's debacle in most of the other States that went to the polls, has also cast a shadow on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's future and even more so on the prospects of the prime minister-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi. Paradoxically, the flop show by the Gandhi scion in U.P. could come as a blessing in disguise to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who may be left alone for the moment by a visibly shaky Congress party.
There also seems to be no clear and present danger to the present regime despite the gloom and doom in the Congress camp. After all regardless of the antics of a volatile ally like Mamata Bannerjee, the UPA can be assured of the support of at least three political parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK), the BSP and the Left Front who certainly do not want mid-term polls. Nor would the BJP after the hammering it got in Uttar Pradesh.
While the political status quo may prevail at the moment with the two national parties not strong enough to rock the boat, both the Congress and the BJP need to do serious introspection about their disastrous performance in U.P. Devastated by the failure of Rahul Gandhi across U.P. and the humiliating rebuff to his supposedly more charismatic sister Priyanka in the Gandhi family bastions of Rae Bareilly and Amethi, the Congress needs to quickly recover the huge loss of face it has suffered in the State after so much media hype. The only way forward could be for Rahul to give up everything else and project himself as a future chief minister of U.P. to compete with Mayawati and the Yadav father-son duo. But this is most unlikely considering his prime ministerial ambitions.
The message for the BJP from U.P. is perhaps even grimmer than for the Congress. Two successive elections have made it clear it is no longer a major player in the State. Despite speculation about a late surge in the recent election, it came to nothing and the BJP dropped even further from its pathetic show in 2007. Considering its national ambitions are entirely linked to a revival in U.P., the party has to get back on its feet. However without the three pillars that had made the State the BJP's launching pad to capture power in New Delhi — a grassroots leader like Kalyan Singh, a towering personality like Atal Behari Vajpayee and an emotional issue like Ayodhya — this looks like a distant dream.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author of Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Keywords: Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, Assembly elections 2012, Uttar Pradesh politics, Uttar Pradesh verdict, caste politcs, Samajwadi Party, BSP, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, anti incumbency factor