The results of five by-elections in Uttar Pradesh make it clear that only Mayawati counts there.
Apologies if this is blindingly obvious to everyone, but the Bahujan Samaj Party led by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati is here to stay. If any proof was needed, the results of the UP by-elections declared earlier this week provide it.
The BSP won all five -- two Lok Sabha and three assembly seats -- wresting two from sitting incumbents. The Azamgarh and Khalilabad Lok Sabha seats were both held by it earlier. The Colonelganj assembly seat was earlier held by the Congress. The BSP has won it this time. Murad Nagar was held by an independent. The BSP has won that as well.
But what should worry both L K Advani and Sonia Gandhi is that in as many as four seats, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party candidates have lost their security deposits. This means in four seats, they were not even able to poll one-sixth of the total votes polled. In Muradnagar, this fate befell the Samajwadi Party nominee.
Although as a measure of abundant caution, the Congress chief in the state, Rita Bahuguna, had said before the election that she did not view it as a referendum on Congress's popularity, the fact is that it must have come as quite a blow. The BJP wasn't even talking of losing, so in that sense, it ends up looking even sillier than the Congress.
Basically, the by-elections tell us that in UP now, the number one and number two slots are occupied by the BSP and SP. The two biggest national parties, the Congress and the BJP, are so out of the reckoning, they can be ignored. They have become irrelevant to the politics of the state.
How has this come about? The seeds of the destruction of the Congress and the BJP lie in the immediate past, the assembly elections last year that brought Mayawati to power in UP.
If the SP improved its vote share by a miniscule percentage share (0.8 per cent), Mayawati won essentially because of the annihilation of the BJP's share of the vote. The upper castes willingly and enthusiastically joined her project of a 'sarvajan samaj' (universal society), so traumatised they were from the law and order deterioration in UP and their targeting by the Yadavs.
Basically the upper castes decided they would vote for anyone who could end Mulayam Singh Yadav's rule. He, in turn, got the reputation of an inefficient law-keeper because he packed the police force with his own caste, something Mayawati is now attempting to dismantle.
This set of by-elections was the first test of the loyalties of the upper castes: were they going to stick with Mayawati or return to the BJP? The result is crystal clear -- the upper castes have still not got over their heeby-jeebies at the prospect of the return of Mulayam Singh Yadav and will go with anyone who can defeat him, not unlike the Muslims who were in the grips of the same sort of thinking -- their vote was available to anyone who could defeat the BJP.
For the upper castes in UP, neither the SP nor the Congress is capable of keeping Yadav at bay. Therefore, the same alliance that worked as a victory formula for the Congress for years -- upper castes-cum-Dalits -- is now being leveraged by Mayawati. In her tenure as CM, she hasn't put one foot wrong. She has, in fact, talked of economic backwardness as the criterion for reservation, not caste, something that can only come from deep-rooted confidence that her own community won't see this as a sellout.
What does this mean in terms of UP's regional politics? In the Vidhan Sabha elections, the biggest chunk of Mayawati's vote came from western UP, the home of the vocal Jats but also of militant Jatavs (untouchables) and outspoken Muslims. With the Muslims already batting for her and voting along with Jatavs, the unity of the upper castes and Jats has no meaning. If anything, farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait's anti-Dalit statements in a public rally have consolidated the lower castes against the Jats. Anyone who consorts with the Jats has a snowflake's chance in hell of getting the Dalit vote now.
True, no by-election was held in western UP this time. But Jats are anti-Congress by temperament and the BJP needed Tikait's call for caste assertion at this point like a hole in the head. Because while Jat consolidation is a political blessing, its backlash represents the consolidation of anti-Jat forces, a development that can only bolster Mayawati's chances.
Besides, so long as Ajit Singh was in alliance with the BJP, it was he who mopped up the Jat vote for it. Now he's out and the BJP is neither getting the Jat vote in western UP nor the anti-Jat vote.
What this points to is obvious: in the Lok Sabha election, while the BSP and SP will fight for number one and two place, the Congress and BJP will vie for number three and four, a cheerless prospect from the point of view of government formation after the next Lok Sabha elections.
There is another factor that has begun to have a role in UP: personality factor. Today, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav have pledged to give their all to UP. But can you think of a single person in the Congress or BJP who has said: "I am dismayed at the way UP is being governed and I'm going to make UP my karmabhumi. I don't want a role in central politics, I'm renouncing that and am going to focus on making UP a better place to live in?"
Not one. Not Rahul Gandhi, not Murli Manohar Joshi, not Advani. So the UP voter naturally thinks, "Well, if we're not good enough for you, then you're not good enough for us". And with 40 Lok Sabha seats out of 80 (or thereabouts) under her belt, it is Mayawati who will be among those to decide who President Pratibha Patil swears in as the next prime minister of India.