Uttar Pradesh election results which came out on May 11, 2007 seem to be pointing out some significant political portents to India's political parties and their leaders.
On that day for the first time in fifteen years, the Uttar Pradesh electorate gave a clear political mandate to a single political party and thereby pre-empting political horse-trading and party switching which had become a regular feature due to fragmented mandates in earlier elections.
Uttar Pradesh, as would be recalled contributes the largest number of Members of Parliament to India's Parliament and therefore is a politically significant state with a strong bearing on India's governance. Till the British left it was the most progressive state and continued as such for a few years more under its first two or three Chief Ministers. The State thereafter progressively declined despite the fact that it contributed five Prime Ministers of India including three generations of the Nehru Gandhi political dynasty.
The decline could be attributed to a combination of a large number of factors which plague most of India's backward states but particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which constitute the bulk of India's Hindi-speaking heartland. Weak political leaders, corrupt and caste-ridden political and administrative machinery coupled with criminalization of politics and reliance on casteist and Indian Muslim captive vote-banks distorted the electoral arithmetic and paralyzed governance. The net result was fragmented mandates, hung Assemblies and every politician was up for sale to the highest bidder to destabilize existing governments.
Uttar Pradesh seems to have broken this evil spell of fifteen years but it remains to be seen as to for how long this clear mandate can last. At issue is whether the Bahujan Samaj Party ( BSP ) which has been given a clear mandate can provide the good governance that the people of Uttar Pradesh aspire for having been disgusted with what has been served to them in the preceding decade and a half.
The BSP as the name signifies has been the political party representing the Dalits (Mahatma Gandhi's Harijans or India's lower castes). The BSP had a sizeable captive vote bank and though Mayawati its leader had earlier been Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for three short spells it was only with opportunistic coalitions with other political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) etc and which dissolved as soon as they took shape. The BSP could come into power this time as for the first time it went into a political outreach to the upper caste Brahmins and the economically weaker strata of the upper castes. They were also given a sizeable number of seats to contest the elections on the BSP ticket.
This new social engineering sends out an important political message that caste-based parties cannot on their own strength seize political power. Perforce, they would have to be more politically inclusive and embrace all economically weaker sections of people irrespective of caste and creed. These election results indicate that the Muslim-Yadav traditional vote-bank of the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Mulayam Singh Yadav who has been voted out of power stands trumped by the new combination of Dalit-Brahmin combination of Mayawati
So powerful is this portent that even Mayawati after the election results was prompted to declare that India's reservation policies need revision in that the traditional caste or class backwardness criteria should be replaced by the criterion of economic backwardness. Political pundits are already opining that this could be Mayawati's magic mantra which could in the future propel her to power in New Delhi.
India's two major political parties have fared very badly in Uttar Pradesh and that is significant for it makes their political fortunes in the 2009 General Elections that much more uncertain. It reveals that despite a line-up of all-India stature political leaders, their stature or political popularity could not carry them far due to organizational weaknesses in both the Congress Party and the BJP.
The Congress Party through Sonia Gandhi has acknowledged that in Uttar Pradesh it stood stymied due to organizational weaknesses and in-fighting. But this seems to be an afterthought and a cover-up as both she and her son were frequently visiting the state for political purposes and should have remedied these shortcomings in the run-up to the elections. It also forcefully brings into focus that Sonia Gandhi's political power and that of the Dynasty is declining. Sonia Gandhi herself is on record that while there was popular enthusiasm for them, it did not get translated into votes for the Congress
The BJP was hopeful to come into power with a better showing and in coalition with some other political outfits. It was hoping a sequential win here would add to its political clout after victories in Punjab and Uttarkhand etc. It did not happen for virtually the same reasons as the Congress. Former PM Vajpayee is no longer a star attraction because oratory without the aura of political charisma does not get translated into votes. Further, the BJP's organizational cadres in Uttar Pradesh have been weak and demoralized by the Party's central policies. It also seems that the BJP did not have full support from the RSS cadres in the state. And more importantly, a fair chunk of the economically weaker upper class votes stood transferred to Mayawati's BSP.
Of course, all these portents become effective and operational only if Mayawati comes out with good and responsive governance, free of corruption and stays the course without getting distracted by the politics of political vendetta against her erstwhile political opponents.
Notwithstanding the above, the people of Uttar Pradesh seem to have sent out quite a few political portents, the chief of which being that social engineering and development and reservation policies solely directed at caste, class or Indian Muslim vote-banks as has been the chief preoccupation of the so-called 'secular' parties like the Congress, the Leftists and the Congress's OBC parties may now be no longer all that valid in electoral arithmetic.