New Delhi: Not enough attention has been paid to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati's speech in Chandigarh last week. She made two points - one, the BSP should always be ready for elections; two, she will continue to support the Congress to keep communal forces at bay.
This is a certain indication that early Lok Sabha elections can be safely ruled out. So long as the 204-member Congress has the support of either Mayawati (with 21 members of Parliament, or MPs) or Mulayam Singh Yadav (with 22 MPs) in the Lok Sabha, the government cannot fall. Whatever the nature of the incendiary comments by the Congress or by Yadav about each other be, the letters of support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) by both Yadav and Mayawati continue to be safely lodged with the President in his safe at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The last time the BSP bailed out the government was during the voting on foreign direct investment in retail. The party left the Lok Sabha before voting - thus lowering the overall numbers present and voting - and helped the UPA secure the numbers in its favour.
In the upper House, its support to the government was open and unequivocal - it voted with the government, despite self-confessed reservations about some aspects of the decision - leaving no one in any doubt that the BSP was helping the UPA and didn't care who noticed.
That is the background. But in the current context, Mayawati's statement tells us that the nascent new alignments in Uttar Pradesh cannot be ruled out. Her politics is rooted in the state. Yes, she would like her party to grow elsewhere in India. But, at present, the biggest chunk of the BSP parliamentary party is from the state and she would like to retain its strength - if not add to it.
Her primary rival Yadav has sung praises of L K Advani's qualities of head and heart. Going a step further, he said if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were to abandon its stance on Kashmir and Babri Masjid, there would be nothing really wrong with it - support to the party could be considered. Yadav is looking at the Nitish Kumar model: after all, if Kumar, who is in alliance with the BJP in Bihar and has been chief minister for two terms, can be considered secular by the Muslims, why not Yadav?
Here, Yadav is taking a calculated risk, reassured by the fact that despite the attack on Muslims in Pratapgarh, they are still supporting him. He figures that if the BJP gets positive signals about his support, it might even tone down its Hindutva rhetoric with an eye to a post-2014 situation where the BJP rather than the Congress might need Yadav's help in forming the government.
Taking advantage of his indecision and ambiguity, Mayawati has stepped forward boldly and spoken out to send the minorities a signal: that she will be the one to keep the BJP at bay. In this, she is offering an alternative to the Muslims: the BSP.
She has done more. Quietly, many of the office-bearers of the BSP have been reshuffled recently. All over Uttar Pradesh, the key responsibility has been restored with the traditional Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), the vehicle that led the BSP to political power. BAMCEF held a unification conference at Mumbai recently, and all the kinks in the organisation caused in the aftermath of Mayawati's spell of political power, appear to have been ironed out.
The primacy given to BAMCEF could mean a review of the strategy of Mayawati's political honeymoon with the Brahmins. But one thing is certain: that the Muslims are being offered an alternative to Yadav in the state.
Another caste that is set to abandon Yadav is the Kurmis, led by Beni Prasad Verma. If the Congress steps carefully in Uttar Pradesh, the Kurmis, angered and enraged by Yadav's recent spat with Verma, could rally back to the Congress.
It is still hard to say how caste coalitions in the state will pan out. And the BJP is yet to make its hand public. If, as we are hearing, Narendra Modi decides to contest the Lok Sabha election from Uttar Pradesh, the entire equation could change. Then, the Muslims will scurry back to the parties they feel safest with, could vote strategically with the sole aim of defeating the BJP, and cause an unpredictable upset in the state verdict.
But Mayawati is working to a plan. Secular forces are an important element in it. And this could have a significant bearing in the formation of the next government in New Delhi.