Neena Vyas and Vidya Subrahmaniam

NEW DELHI: The buzz in Parliament, as the government and the Opposition debated the confidence motion moved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was around one formidable figure — Mayawati. Some talked about her with admiration and others, especially those in the Bharatiya Janata Party, were not at all amused at the prospect of this prime ministerial candidate.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister was not present in Parliament, yet all conversation revolved round her. Politicians and journalists alike spoke breathlessly about the Maya phenomenon — the coup she had pulled off in teaming up with the United National Progressive Alliance and the Left, the magnetic pull she exerted on the many smaller parties that had gravitated towards her in preference to the ruling United Progressive Alliance, and most importantly, her sudden and dramatic emergence as a prospective Prime Minister following her endorsement, first by A.B. Bardhan and then by others.

The consensus in the corridors of Parliament was that the projection of the Bahujan Samaj Party chief as a future Prime Minister would have a huge impact on Dalit voters across the country, leading to a quantum jump in the BSP’s vote share (its current all-India vote share is 5.33 per cent), and in the process altering political equations as never before.

That the BJP was rattled by this unexpected turn of events was evident enough. Party sources conceded that the growing momentum around Ms. Mayawati had put the BJP in a quandary. If its MPs voted to bring the government down, the credit for it would go to the UNPA-Left and Ms. Mayawati rather than to the BJP. The emergence of the Dalit ki beti (A Dalit’s daughter) as a hero would directly affect the BJP’s projection of Lal Krishna Advani as Prime Minister.

BJP general secretary, Rajya Sabha member and election strategist Arun Jaitley, of course, rubbished the suggestion that the party was running scared of the possibility of Ms. Mayawati as Prime Minister. His thesis was that a BSP in the ascendant would hurt the Congress the most as Ms. Mayawati’s party would mop up the Congress’ Dalit votes across the country. The advantage of this erosion would go to the BJP.

However, Ms. Mayawati’s rise in Uttar Pradesh has demonstrated that the BJP has lost ground in this most populous State of the Hindi heartland almost in inverse proportion to the BSP’s gain. Mr. Jaitley, of course, dismissed this as “relevant only to Uttar Pradesh, not to other States like Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan.” This despite the BJP’s claim that it has been winning more parliamentary seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes than the Congress and has a substantial Dalit following.

The Congress, on the other hand, was more bothered about the impact of Ms. Mayawati’s new role on the trust vote. Revelling in the BJP’s discomfiture, party strategists told journalists that they were confident that the BJP would not allow the Manmohan Singh government to fall on the floor of the House.

BJP leaders denied this strongly, pointing out that three of their MPs, who are in intensive care units in hospitals, were being flown in here in special ambulances. The party said it was making every effort to ensure full presence of the BJP on Tuesday, when the votes will be cast to determine the fate of the Manmohan Singh government, despite persistent reports in the corridors of Parliament that four or five BJP MPs may fail to turn up for a variety of reasons.

BJP president Rajnath Singh is a known opponent of Ms. Mayawati. He does not hide the fact that he had not been in favour of propping up Ms. Mayawati as Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister, which the BJP did, not once, but thrice. It is also well known that he was personally involved in breaking the BSP in the past when he was the party chief in Lucknow. Those close to him say that as long as Mr. Singh is president of the party, the BJP can never support Ms. Mayawati as Prime Minister.

Moreover, in this instance, the political interests of the two strong men of the BJP, Mr. Singh and Mr. Advani, coincide. If Mr. Singh does not want his Thakur support base (courtesy well-known Thakur-Dalit hostility) wiped out in one stroke, Mr. Advani does not want competition from Ms. Mayawati for the coveted prize — the Prime Minister’s chair.