The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll cheer for Mayavati and Mulayam

New Delhi, March 1: The outcome of the Uttar Pradesh bypolls confirm a trend that has set in over the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections: the mainstream Congress and the BJP are getting marginalised and regional players — the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — are starting to occupy centrestage.

In the Gauriganj byelection, the BSP tossed the Congress into second place. This may not have been significant but for Gauriganj being an Assembly segment of the Amethi parliamentary constituency held by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

Likewise, the Haidergarh result may have been one more for the Election Commission’s record books had the seat not been held by former chief minister Rajnath Singh who vacated it for a Rajya Sabha berth.

Haidergarh was won by the Samajwadi’s Arvind Singh ‘Gope’, a former Lucknow University student leader. Gope’s nearest rival was the BSP’s Dharmi Rawat and not the BJP candidate, who was pushed to third place.

Observers see the outcome as a pointer to the emergence of a Tamil Nadu-like polity where two major regional parties are the poles around which others gravitate. The Samajwadi win is also perceived as the beginning of a caste realignment that could be detrimental to the BJP.

The upper castes have apparently shed their antipathy for Mulayam Singh Yadav and are willing to vote for his party, rather than the BJP. Their support, together with the Samajwadi’s traditional Muslim-Yadav base, is seen as a strong counterweight against the BSP’s collection of Dalits and sections of the deprived backward castes.

Uttar Pradesh BJP sources conceded that the decision to back Mayavati would cost them dear. An MP said “Haidergarh confirmed our fears”.

He said the Thakurs — who dominate Haidergarh along with the Brahmins — were miffed with Mayavati’s use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act against their kinsman, Raja Bhaiyya, and his father. The BJP’s unwillingness to condemn the arrests and the central leaders’ stiff directive to Uttar Pradesh representatives not to speak out against Mayavati was the last straw.

“They stopped trusting us. They believed Mulayam and Amar Singh (Samajwadi general secretary) because they at least spoke out fearlessly against the chief minister. Mulayam’s assertion that he would arrest Mayavati under Pota if he came to power was the clincher in his favour,” said BJP sources. While the BJP acknowledged it had no choice but cling to Mayavati or risk getting wiped out in the next elections, the Congress is faced with a more acute dilemma.

Not only Gauriganj, even Haidergarh was held by the party until its legislator Surendranath Awasthi broke ranks, backed Rajnath’s candidacy in a byelection after he became chief minister, and joined the BJP.

Not only have the upper castes irretrievably given up on the Congress, the other two components of its traditional caste coalition — the Dalits and Muslims — are apparently in no hurry to return.

Uttar Pradesh Congress sources concede their survival depends on an alliance with the Samajwadi.

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