If there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, some of that metaphorical gold may be awaiting Mayavati with her ‘rainbow’ coalition. The Bahujan Samaj Party’s recent victory in all the five by-elections in Uttar Pradesh could suggest that she is on the right track. By-elections in themselves are rarely harbingers of future glitter. But the dynamics surrounding the BSP’s victory in the two Lok Sabha and three assembly seats — one of the latter being Jat-dominated Muradnagar — are giving the BSP’s rivals very unpleasant nights. For one, Ms Mayavati’s foes were hoping that she was beginning to lose it. Mulayam Singh Yadav, her closest rival, was looking for a revival of the Samajwadi Party’s fortunes. The party had won the by-elections for the assembly seats in Gunnaur and Baillia last year. Besides, Ms Mayavati’s mobilization of the upper castes has necessarily blurred her focus on restoring the rights of Dalits and fighting the injustices perpetrated on them. That encouraged not just Mr Yadav, but also the Jat leader, Ajit Singh. But his Rashtriya Lok Dal, too, failed to get a single seat this time.
It is worse for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both have been completely sidelined in UP by the Dalit party. No party can ignore this: UP sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. The BJP might see a silver lining in its winning of the Betul Lok Sabha seat in the by-election in Madhya Pradesh, but the Congress must think on its feet in order to find the right regional allies. Ms Mayavati is anything but a dependable partner, but it is either the BSP or the combination of the Samajwadi Party and RLD that the Congress must look for. The situation is exactly the same with the BJP; although, for it, a partnership with Mr Yadav seems most unlikely. Ms Mayavati is treading with care; managing an upper caste electorate with a Dalit party USP is tough. Her Dalit support is still massive, and she reminded the world of her position as Dalit leader in her recent spat with Mahendra Singh Tikait. But her ambitions make her edgy. Her apparently juvenile remarks after Rahul Gandhi’s forays into her territory suggest that she, at least, has not forgotten that the Congress was the ideal ‘umbrella’ party till a few years ago. Identity politics changed that, and the Congress lost to the new politicians heading new groups. But a young, clued-in politician, left unhindered, may find the route back.