Is she going to be India's next PM?

AFTER the murky events culminating in the passage of the confidence vote for the Manmohan Singh government, three trends are visible in India. First, the United Progressive Alliance achieved only a tarnished triumph amidst brazen horse-trading. Gone is the halo around Singh as someone who would never stoop low to conquer.

By Praful Bidwai (India Vision)

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Published: Mon 4 Aug 2008, 12:11 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Second, the Bharatiya Janata Party stands bruised. It failed to defeat the motion. And its ploy to depict itself as a victim of the sordid Rs one crore "cash-for-votes" scam hasn't worked. The sting/entrapment footage, calculated to indict the Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh, is apparently blurred and falls short of clinching evidence.

The BJP is utterly confused in its reaction to the committee set up by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to investigate the scandal. As former Home Minister LK Advani should have reported the scam to the police, but instead tried to exploit it politically.

He predicted that a prominent TV channel (CNN-IBN) would air the sting footage. But CNN-IBN won't oblige him.

The BJP petulantly says it won't cooperate with the "illegitimate" UPA, even on shared economic agendas. Worse, Sushma Swaraj has plumbed the depths by accusing the UPA of having stage-managed the Bangalore and Ahmedabad blasts to divert attention from the "cash-for-votes" scam!

Third, the Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati has been catapulted to the national forefront and become a new magnet for the United National Progressive Alliance parties, despite having only 17 Lok Sabha seats. The number of parties supporting her has doubled.

Mayawati's high-profile national entry has ended the near-isolation of the Left after Singh deceitfully approached the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors. It has also eclipsed BJP Prime-Minister-in-waiting Advani from the headlines.

Mayawati's BSP is undoubtedly a rising star. In Uttar Pradesh, it relentlessly expanded its vote-share and seats from 9.4 per cent and 11 seats in 1989, to 11.1 per cent and 67 in 1993, to 19.6 per cent and 67 in 1996, to 23.2 per cent and 98 in 2002. Last year, it bagged an even more impressive 30.5 per cent vote and 206 of 403 seats to became UP's first party to win a majority in 17 years.

The key to this dazzling success lay in the BSP's garnering of non-Dalit, especially upper-caste, votes. It also made substantial gains among the OBCs and broke into the SP's traditional Muslim base. Its 26 Muslim MLAs outnumber the SP's 21.

This is the first time that a mainly Dalit party has acquired such a broad base anywhere in India.

The BSP now has MLAs in Bihar, Rajasthan, Chhhattisgarh, Haryana and Uttarakhand. It commands the fourth biggest share (5.3 per cent) of the national vote higher than the SP's 4.3 per cent and slightly lower than the CPM's 5.7 per cent.

Mayawati is a stellar media figure because she's a Dalit and a single woman, who has fought against heavy odds, including dire poverty and male prejudice. Suddenly, the battlefield for India's Prime Ministership has expanded to include Mayawati.

But can Mayawati become the core of a new Third Front? The UNPA-Left has a respectable 20 per cent of the national vote and 94 Lok Sabha MPs. Some UNPA constituents, like the Telugu Desam, are likely to grow in the next election. So hopefully, it's said, the Third Front may be in the reckoning.

However, this linear calculus is based on wishful thinking like the inclusion of the Left's 59 seats, which may not happen. It also places abundant faith in the BSP's ability to poach on other parties. But during the recent crisis, the BSP could only engineer a minuscule number of cross-votes. This wasn't for want of readiness to use foul means.

But let's analyse things clinically. Crucial to the success of any party in becoming the fulcrum of a new broad front are three factors, besides its numerical strength: ability to provide political cohesion and ideological cement to alliances; forming a bridge between a strongly ideology-driven current like the Left, and disparate regional parties; and ability to build broad, mutually beneficial coalitions.

None of these holds true of the BSP. Its strongly Dalit-centred ideology, even coupled with "social engineering", cannot provide the glue which can sustainably unite regionalist and ethnic sub-regionalist parties, leave alone the ideologically fired Left.

The BSP lacks a wide-horizon ideology or vision with distinct positions on matters like the world order, economic policy, secularism, and human rights and security. It's also deeply compromised with communalism, having allied not once, but three times, with the BJP in UP. This is also true of most UNPA constituents, which had past alliances with the BJP. Their future desertion would reduce the UNPA to an empty shell.

The BSP cannot provide a bridge between the Left and UNPA allies. It has no special affinity with the Left, which has always criticised it for its "non-ideological" approach and corruption. It's hard to characterise the BSP as a Left-of-Centre force, with a compassionate, humane agenda. Its notion of inclusiveness has more in common with patronage than a shared collective destiny.

Finally, the BSP cannot easily provide alliances through which its partners gain without cutting into each other's vote-bases. The BSP's strong base is confined to UP. It only has a 3 to 5 per cent vote in other Northern states, barring Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, where it crossed 7 per cent. This makes it a formidable spoiler, not a winner.

The BSP can of course transfer its votes to allies where it's strong. But the reverse isn't true.

The BSP is certain to improve its Lok Sabha tally, probably to 45, even 60 seats. But it'll find it hard to replicate the UP model. The conditions that made that possible-politicisation of subaltern layers, a prolonged political impasse, and upper-caste alienation from major parties don't exist in other states. Outside UP, its gains will probably be small.

The UNPA will have a future only if the Left backs it. But the Left cannot ignore the unsavoury past of many UNPA constituents, or Mayawati's monumental opportunism, corruption and personality cult. All this goes against whatever the Left stands for.

Praful Bidwai is a veteran Indian journalist and commentator. He can be reached at

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