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Posted at: Oct 12, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: Oct 12, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

The X factor for 2019 polls

Arati R Jerath

Arati R Jerath
Mayawati, with serious national ambitions, can’t be taken lightly
The X factor for 2019 polls
In deed: Both Mayawati and the Congress know they can’t do without each other.

Arati R Jerath
Political commentator

Former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala set the Yamuna on fire this week by publicly batting for BSP supremo Mayawati as the next Prime Minister. ‘We will work towards uniting the Opposition so that Mayawati becomes the next Prime Minister,’ he announced at a rally in Gohana. Drawing rooms, political circles and the media have been buzzing since with a mixture of excitement and consternation over the possibility of a Dalit woman PM in 2019.  

Chautala was the first to say out loud what was being whispered after Sonia Gandhi hugged Mayawati at Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru, where the entire anti-Modi opposition had gathered in a show of strength. He was also the first to articulate an ambition Mayawati has nursed since 2008, when she briefly flirted with the Left in a Third Front formation to oppose the India-US civilian nuclear deal. But has his endorsement actually set the ball rolling for a historic paradigm shift in caste and power dynamics that would propel the BSP chief to emerge as India’s Barack Obama? 

Ironically, Mayawati’s hopes of becoming PM rest almost entirely on the Congress, a party she only recently rebuffed as ‘casteist’ and ‘arrogant’. In an opposition front made up of an array of small parties, Mayawati will always be just one of the regional satraps jockeying to be PM unless a larger national force like the Congress throws its weight behind her.

 And she knows it well. In praising Sonia and Rahul Gandhi while lambasting their party, in leaving the door open for an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls after rejecting a tie-up for the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, Mayawati has virtually acknowledged her dependence on Congress goodwill to reach the pinnacle of her ambition. 

Equally significant is the Congress response to her unstated signals. Rahul Gandhi and his chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala were cautiously polite about her decision to ‘dump’ the Congress in the upcoming state elections. Both said they had great respect for her and welcomed the possibility of a national alliance with the BSP in 2019. 

Reading between the lines, it would seem that the Congress could well consider propping up Mayawati as PM if it does not have the numbers to stake claim for Rahul Gandhi or his nominee to head the next government. The warmth in Sonia’s body language with the BSP chief in Bengaluru was a dead giveaway of the party’s Plan B.

Mayawati’s game will begin only if the BJP falls so short of the majority mark in 2019 that it cannot even cobble together a coalition government. The numbers present an interesting picture in this scenario. The Congress, with its bigger national footprint, will be the largest single party in the anti-Modi grouping. 

Three parties are vying to be in the  second position, albeit way behind the Congress because their presence is limited to one state. One is Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which is hoping to win as many as possible of Bengal’s 42 seats. The other is MK Stalin’s DMK, which will try to bag the lion’s share of the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The third is Mayawati’s BSP, whose main battlefield is UP, with 80 seats in the Lok Sabha. Although she will have to share the pie with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Jayant Chaudhry’s RLD to craft a winning alliance against the BJP, she appears to have a slight upper hand as the SP chief has hinted that he is ready to be accommodative in the distribution of seats.

But Mayawati is nobody’s fool. She is aware of the competition she faces from Mamata and Stalin. The DMK chief may prefer to stay in Chennai, but he would want a say in Delhi. Mamata, on the other hand, has definite national ambitions. 

She knows she cannot surge ahead of these two on the strength of her performance in UP alone, however magnanimous Akhilesh may be. It is interesting that she has been scouting around for seats in other states, hoping to add to her kitty. 

She has already had a fruitful meeting with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who seems keen to give her one or two seats to contest in Maharashtra. TDP boss Chandrababu Naidu has also indicated his interest in a limited tie-up with the BSP in Andhra Pradesh. And JD(S) patriarch HD Deve Gowda is toying with the idea of a one-seat arrangement with her in Karnataka. The two had an alliance for the state elections earlier this year. The BSP won one seat and boasted of a minister in the Kumaraswamy government who quit on Thursday.

It is only the Congress that can add substantially to her tally if it agrees to a pre-poll tie-up with the BSP across North India in states like Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Haryana. Although she has already entered into a poll pact with Chautala’s INLD, the addition of the Congress will give the combination the much-needed muscle to take on the BJP.

Mayawati’s rebuff to the Congress for the upcoming elections and her repeated warnings about a ‘respectable’ seat-sharing arrangement (otherwise she will go it alone) should be seen against this backdrop. She is bargaining hard. Like Mayawati understands the importance of the Congress for her plans, the Congress appreciates the value she brings to the table. 

While the Congress and Mayawati dance around each other in slow tango, the BJP is monitoring this shadow power play closely. Can it tempt the Dalit queen to switch partners? Mayawati may well prove to be the X factor in 2019.

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