Election results from Uttar Pradesh, often considered the true mirror of Indian politics, show that the Samajwadi Party is on borrowed time. It failed to secure a single seat in the by-elections that were held in the state. The principal gainer was the Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayavati, which increased its tally. What seems apparent from the voting figures is that Ms Mayavati not only held on to her own support base among the Dalits, she also made significant inroads into the vote bank of the other backward classes, the mainstay of the SP and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. There are enough grounds to believe that Mr Yadav may have lost the support of even his own caste. There is an obvious shift from the caste-based politics that has prevailed in UP for some time: the Dalit and the OBC votes seem to be clustering around the BSP. If this trend holds it would be safe to conclude that the entire backward caste vote — irrespective of the divisions between the OBCs and the Dalits — has recognized the BSP as the best vehicle for furthering their collective interests.
The rout of the SP has other, perhaps more significant, ramifications. The Congress has also gained in comparison to the SP, and this would indicate that the latter is also losing its support among the Muslims. In Firozabad, the Congress candidate, Raj Babbar, a former Samajwadi leader, defeated Mr Yadav’s daughter-in-law, Dimple Yadav by a decisive margin. Mr Yadav thus lost even in his home turf. It might be too early to speak of a full-fledged Congress recovery in UP but the signs that such a process has already started is more than clear from the election results. The credit for this remarkable turnaround must go to Rahul Gandhi who refused to be lured by short term successes and is concentrating on building up his party’s organization and bases in UP. The dividends of this investment are manifest and will increase in the future. The Congress needs to keep its head and not be swayed by offers of alliance from SP to form an anti-BSP front. The BSP remains the main rival of the Congress in UP if the latter is to stage a recovery. But this goal will not be achieved by making short term compromises with unprincipled political entities. With the defeat of SP and the virtual disappearance of the Bharatiya Janata Party, UP is preparing for a battle royal between the Congress and the BSP. This may well determine the future face of the Indian polity and the nation.