Turmoil is not new to Uttar Pradesh, and the latest sequence is once again pushing that unfortunate state towards uncertainty. The UP chief minister, Ms Mayavati, had never been famous for her peaceable nature, and at present she seems to be giving full play to her incomparable talents for creating confusion. Her chosen issue is corruption, and her target, not surprisingly, is her ancient enemy, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. Corruption is a promising can of worms anywhere in India, and UP provides more promising cans than most. Ms Mayavati herself has been at the receiving end of allegations of corruption for a while. Things came to a climax with the lavish birthday party she threw for herself recently, and the Samajwadi Party, or rather Mr Yadav, made himself excessively unpopular with two compact discs, claiming to expose Ms Mayavati’s corrupt governance. The reiterated message in the recent rally Ms Mayavati addressed could be read as a statement of one-upmanship in dirty fingers. The chief minister has filed more than 200 cases against her rival and his party, and Mr Yadav has been accused in 151 of them. With the beginning of the arrests, the state has erupted in violent protests by the Samajwadi Party.
While the two leaders dare each other to go the furthest, the people whom they claim to lead are in a worse fix than ever. Dalits and the underprivileged classes are particularly vulnerable in phases of economic decline, and development work in UP has not seen any improvement for a long time. And Ms Mayavati’s arrogant style of governance has not made her popular with her coalition partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The latest fracas between her Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party threatens to polarize the vote in a way that would marginalize the BJP. The BJP cannot find this palatable. No national party can ignore UP, apart from the fact that the BJP was the dominant presence there until not so long ago. The BJP has never been very deft when faced with the wiles and fury of women regional leaders; it only had some success with Ms Mamata Banerjee. But Ms J. Jayalalithaa has not been easy to handle, and Ms Mayavati is proving as difficult. If UP is divided along lines of support to the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, the BJP will have to keep dealing with unmanageable partners.