Holding one of the keys of the presidential election due to her newly-gained strength on the Uttar Pradesh scene, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati is in a comfortable position to obtain favours and attention from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and more particularly from the Congress party.
It is no secret now that Mayawati will lend a helping hand to the Congress for the presidential elections, without backing any candidate in particular. There is indeed no interest for her to oppose the Congress in an election that ultimately is of moderate importance to her party. To the contrary, her interest lies in establishing a constructive relationship with the central government in order to consolidate her position of leadership within Uttar Pradesh.
Her recent moves in the capital have clearly showed her in a trading mood, seeking loans and investments from New Delhi for Uttar Pradesh. During and after her meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, she adopted a cooperative tune, calling for the ending of the bitterness that has plagued the relations between the central government and her predecessor.
As for the Congress, it is in its interest to reach out to Mayawati. Unable to oppose her and not even in a position to offer support to BSP in Uttar Pradesh, it needs to express its goodwill at a higher level. It is in fact an opportunity for the UPA government to assert its presence in a state where it has hardly been felt by anybody in the recent past, largely due to the acrimony existing between its leadership and the former chief minister. Funds that still lie in deep repose in the coffers of bureaucracy may now be used for their original purposes.
All would be well if the terms of the exchange did not seem to be so unequal. While the Congress and UPA will have to make their cooperative spirit concrete and tangible, BSP will only have to back decisions and not interfere negatively with UPA's policies.
With difficult parliamentary elections ahead in 2009 for the Congress, it is likely that Mayawati will preserve and even increase her bargaining power with the central government and that she will use it extensively to implement her policies in Uttar Pradesh. This will give her an even greater leeway and enable her to reward her electorate, old and new, further consolidating her position.
Deprived of any short or mid-term prospect in Uttar Pradesh and unable to figure out how its main allies will fair in their respective strongholds, the Congress has no option but to cajole a potential powerful ally in India's most populous state.
Beyond these rather conjectural elements, one may add that the current all-party consensus to make this presidential election a strictly party affair also increases the bargaining power of smaller parties in general. Not only BSP but even the DMK, Left and other partners of the Congress may find an opportunity here to gain some political mileage, if not immediately, in the near future, by showing their goodwill.
If the objective of the Congress is to secure the decision process around a yet-to-be-defined favourite candidate, it makes it also more dependent on its allies, both in the government and in parliament. So far, it seems to be working well, no major voice of dissent being heard from the ranks of the UPA coalition and its supporters.
One would be legitimate to complain about the politicization of the highest post of the country. On the other hand, if done reasonably and without too much pain, it can help to consolidate the coalition dharma that the Congress was forced to adopt three years ago.
(Gilles Verniers is a Ph.D candidate at the Political Studies Institute of Paris and is currently based in New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)