The BSP victory in the UP poll stunned media and psephologists alike. Few expected a clear majority for Mayawati's party. The victory has created considerable euphoria. A new turn in electoral politics is seen by some; the emergence of a future prime minister by others.
The psephologists were the most embarrassed. A noted expert lamented: 'Election forecasting in India has a long way to go.' That's right. Statistics are not enough. Subterranean politics needs to be understood. The print media did slightly better. Reporters sensed a mood among voters which the psephologists missed. But they too did not sense a wave. That is understandable. There was no wave. There was only a silent undercurrent ' silent because it was intended to be so. Here is what appears to have really happened.
Mayawati has been hailed for a new poll strategy that maximized caste alignments without creating caste division. This is not new really. Constituency profiles have been relevant in selecting candidates since the days of Pandit Nehru. In Britain and the US, too, constituency profiles are taken into consideration while selecting winning candidates: that is how Asians get elected to the British Parliament. Even Charan Singh never raised caste as an issue during his years of success. He talked only of the rural-urban divide.
As for VP Singh, ever since he adopted caste-based reservation as his central theme he has lost every single election. In the current poll this former PM and former UP CM drew a blank.
And ever since the BSP forged electoral alliances it has gained legislative strength. The first time was when Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh were persuaded to align. Both did so after initial reluctance. After that the BSP never looked back. Alignments with different parties helped it to rise. But this time it has obtained a single party majority. How?
The explanation is simple. For the first time Mayawati delivered every election speech and press statement from a written text. She was kept on leash. Her speeches avoided caste and focused on governance. Who was guiding her? Her general secretary Satish Mishra and the think tank assembled around him. Mishra is a Brahmin, earlier appointed by Mayawati as UP's Advocate-General. One press report quoted Mishra as saying that when he asked why she had appointed him, she said he had merit. At that time she was Chief Minister with the BJP's support. Possibly she forgot to tell Mishra that the PM of the day, Atal Behari Vajpayee, advised her to appoint Mishra. Mishra has RSS links. Kanshi Ram backed Dalit conversion to Buddhism. Mayawati adopted the BSP's Hindu card. The slogan, 'Tilak, tarazu aur talwar, teenon ko maaro joote char' was replaced by 'Yeh haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai'. Mishra ably guided Mayawati in the Taj Corridor corruption case filed against her. That cemented her trust in him. Now Mishra is her number two, attached to the CM's office.
Readers might recall that I alluded last week to a top BJP leader allegedly leaking to The Hindu an official report against the Modi government in Gujarat. This aroused suspicion of deep divisions within the Sangh Parivar. The UP polls seem to confirm the suspicions. Earlier, commentaries had pointed out that the Bania-dominated VHP and the Brahmin-dominated RSS had perceptible differences of approach. Is it without significance that during the UP poll Ashok Singhal of the VHP prevailed upon Uma Bharati to withdraw her candidates to help the BJP? She obliged, though with little effect on the poll result. After the poll the RSS hailed Mayawati for adopting 'soft Hindutva like the late Indira Gandhi'.
During the poll the RSS attached an observer to each candidate's office to monitor the poll. That is all the observers did ' monitor the poll. RSS did not actively help the BJP. On the other hand the BSP is said to have clandestinely received full RSS support. That was why the poor psephologists went so wrong. Uma Bharati's withdrawal of candidates was achieved to make sure that, if the BSP worsted the BJP, the reasons could not be traced to a division of the Hindutva vote. It would seem that the RSS was conducting a dry run. It wanted to test the real electoral strength of the caste-as-agenda card. It also wanted to test the real strength of the Hindutva card. The results are plain to see.
So, where do we go from here? What the UP poll revealed was that the old and trusted method of assessing a constituency profile to use intelligently caste and community without accentuating differences worked admirably. In other words, parties could compete on alternate policy agendas instead of on different caste alignments. For the rest, there remains a long way to go. The emergence of a single ruling party in India's largest state does provide an excellent launching pad for creating a genuine national alternative in the long term ' provided the exercise is addressed intelligently. The Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim combine worked for the Congress nationwide before Independence. After the 1960s, emergence in many states of powerful regional castes rendered that combination inadequate. For example, the Reddys and Kammas in Andhra Pradesh, the Lingayats and Vokkligas in Karnataka, the Mahrattas in Maharashtra cannot be ignored while stitching a winning electoral social base in any of these states. As events move on, the BSP victory in UP could in the long term become a powerful catalyst for creating a winning federal party.
To expect miraculous political change in the short term would be unreal. Until now, with regard to governance and corruption, Mayawati has been no different from other national leaders. By the time this appears in print it will be known whether the Governor gives CBI consent to prosecute her in the Taj Corridor case. That case in turn drew attention to her disproportionate assets. The ministers appointed by Mayawati include dozens facing criminal charges. Six among them face serious charges. One minister is in jail. Naseemuddin Siddiqui, her senior cabinet minister, is a co-accused in the Taj Corridor case. As for Mayawati's equation with the UPA and RSS respectively, things will become clearer by her approach to the Presidential poll. If the Governor fails to protect her, the BSP and the Samajvadi Party vote can swing the election either way. In what circumstances would Mulayam Singh be expected to support the UPA? So Mayawati might hold the balance. She has indicated she would prefer a Brahmin from UP to be the next President. Interesting days lie ahead. But do not expect a quick big change. We are seeing now just a start.