Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati created history on Friday with an amazing electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh, propelling her party to power in the country's most populous state for the fourth time. She has also forged the party as a force to reckon with even at the national level.
Fifty-one-year-old Mayawati, who had briefly ruled Uttar Pradesh on three occasions, has proved wrong all exit polls, which were not willing to concede anything beyond 150 seats to her party in UP's 403-member house.
However, now it is amply evident that BSP would reach or even cross the 202 mark -- vital to form a stable government without anyone's support -- an achievement that none other than Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party could boast of in the state's history.
The fact that BSP was launched only 23 years ago on the strength of just the Dalit vote makes it even more credible for the party leader to have taken it to such heights in a relatively short span of time.
The BSP sweep, all across the sprawling state, punctured the ruling Samajwadi Party and left an overconfident BJP relegated to the third position with its worst electoral showing since 1991, when it bagged a simply majority to form its first-ever government in the state.
The Congress, which had roped in president Sonia Gandhi and her MP son Rahul Gandhi in a desperate move to improve upon its poor 2002 showing, was left with just about 25 seats - the same as last time.
However, the Congress leadership was quite content over the fact that the party's vote share had gone up.
BSP's spectacular showing makes the party a major factor in India's upcoming presidential polls, where the voters come from Parliament and state assemblies, and also nationally.
Mayawati's grand success was surely attributable to a radical shift that she was able to bring about in BSP by moving the party away from an exclusively Dalit support base to one that would embrace all communities including the Hindu upper castes it once so openly despised.
The 'social engineering', as the process came to be called, appeared to have done the trick, making the BSP the winner or runner up in most constituencies all across sprawling Uttar Pradesh.
It was her hand-picked Brahmin -- completely apolitical Satish Chandra Misra -- who was detailed to carry out the new experiment, which has eventually paid really rich political dividends.
By Misra's own account, the BSP supremo was reluctant in trying the experiment.
"But once she had studied the pros and cons threadbare, she gave us the go-ahead and got down to brass tacks herself," Misra had earlier told this correspondent.
Mayawati went out of her way to field not only as many as 86 Brahmins but also chose to give tickets to 62 Muslims.
"A really meticulous selection of candidates followed by her single-handed campaign eventually paid dividends today," observed Misra.
Mayawati too made it a point to express her gratitude for the success to different crossection of society and particularly the upper castes, whom she had brought into her party fold for the first time. What did the magic was the addition of a chunk of the 14 per cent Brahmin vote and a small percentage of the 18 per cent Muslim vote to her base vote bank of 24 per cent dalits.
However, it was not just the caste calculations that gave BSP a clear ride to power. "It was also the common perception that Mayawati alone had the potential to contain the lawlessness let lose by Mulayam's SP and its goons who accentuated the anti-incumbency factor against his government.
Interestingly however, different political parties including the Congress were out to take some credit for heralding Mayawati's return to power.
"Our campaign aimed at highlighting misdeeds of the Mulayam government also contributed to her victory," claimed Congress state chief Salman Khurshid.
And so did Raj Babbar the actor turned Samajwadi Party rebel who had roped in former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh to run a sustained vitriolic against Mulayam.
"After all we also helped to dent Mulayam; so what if the benefit has gone to Mayawati," quipped Babbar over telephone from Agra.