Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MAYA VS SONIA: THE BATTLE FOR UP IS ON

How important Uttar Pradesh is for the race to Delhi has been graphically demonstrated in the last couple of days. And, once again, Mayawati has trumped Sonia Gandhi. The Congress, BJP and SP, all looking to trip Mayawati in UP, seem actually to have made it a habit to fall into Maya jaal (net) like hypnotised subjects stunned by a magician who is the master of his craft.

With general elections around the corner, Sonia Gandhi was keen on showing to the people of Rae Bareilly, her parliamentary constituency in Mayawati's UP, that she had the clout to get things done, at least for them. So, she pushed a weakened and therefore an increasingly pliant and submissive Laloo Yadav, India's Railway Minister, to set up a rail coach factory in Rae Bareilly. He willingly obliged and the stage was all set for Sonia Gandhi to perform 'bhoomi pujan' on October 14, 2008, at the site where the factory was to come up.

Pretty routine stuff this move was. But, Mayawati, stung by Sonia Gandhi's alliance with her arch rival Mulayam Singh Yadav, was in no mood to let her get away without paying a heavy price. At the same time, she wanted to send a loud message to the whole state and more that Mayawati was the boss in UP, no matter who was ruling at the Centre, and that no one who messed up with her was safe.

Striking like 'greased lightning', Mayawati simply cancelled the allotment of land for the project on the ground that the villagers whose land it was were against giving it up for the factory. Stunned, the Sonia camp moved the Allahabad High Court against the decision of the UP government. The High Court responded by staying the revocation of allocation and ordering a status quo. That meant that no 'bhoomi pujan' could be performed till the final order of the court. Mayawati had won.

Notwithstanding this set back, Sonia Gandhi decided to stick to her plan for holding a rally at the site. Mayawati hit back again by getting the district administration to issue prohibitory orders by imposing Section 144 of the CrPC that does not permit gatherings, in view of navratra festivities! After declaring that Sonia Gandhi would go ahead with her rally at Rae Bareilly, notwithstanding this ban, the Congress finally caved in and cancelled her visit. Mayawati had won again. Had Sonia Gandhi decided to go ahead with the visit, it is certain that Mayawati would have won once more, using another another unexpected ace to rub in the humiliation really hard.(Update: Sonia went on a roadshow today from Fursatganj airport to Lalganj railway station, but did not hold any rally).

Mayawati's decisive and often vindictive political actions have always drawn wide condemnation from her political opponents, no angels themselves. The surprising thing is that she keeps doing what she she thinks she needs to do and keeps making them all look second best all the time. This time, the cry of defeat is that, like Mamata Bannerjee, Mayawati is allowing partisan politics to harm the developmental needs of her state, and that such irresponsibility must come with a heavy electoral price. No matter how hard any one may try, there are no parallels here with the ill fated Tata Nano plant in Singur which was turned into a political battle ground by Mamata Bannerjee for all the wrong reasons and which will most likely prove to be her political graveyard.

Unfortunately for disconnected commentators who write but possibly do not vote, real people out there understand only too well that the siting of the rail coach factory in Rae Bareilly was not motivated by any bipartisan desire to address the developmental needs of the state. It was primarily a pre-election sop to woo voters of a constituency, something that has become a disease in India, cost-benefit analysis be damned. A political move was countered by a political move. Unlike what might happen to Mamata Bannerjee in Bengal, the spunk shown by Mayawati in this case is without doubt going to lead to a spike in her popularity and fetch her many additional votes.

This is possibly the first time ever that any politician has single-handedly taken on and humiliated a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family in such a manner. This might well prove to be a defining moment in India's political history, heralding the removal of the family from the pedestal that it has always been on since Independence.

The second and perhaps even more dramatic significance of what Mayawati has done is the fact that a dalit has audaciously taken on and humbled the most powerful woman in the country. This is something that was not even conceivable a few years back, by not just dalits but even by the empowered belonging to the upper castes. Western oriented analysts who theoretically champion caste equality but abhor the idea of Mayawati becoming the Prime Minister because she does not fit into their social milieu, can not even begin to understand what impact a development like this is going to make on dalits not just in UP but across India.

A revolution in India's caste structure is upon us, faster and more furious than ever in India's history. But to cocooned metro bred analysts who have no clue about what a caste based society actually is, this is manifestly not even apparent. That is why their response to this latest standoff between Mayawati and Sonia remains limited to the unthinking, stereotyped one of bipartisanship and development.

That is why when elections come and people caste their votes, heavy electoral price will be paid, but not by those whom these armchair analysts think. If Mayawati can continue to show political brilliance and courage like she has till now, don't be surprised if Sonia Gandhi loses personally in Rae Bareilly. Remember you read it first here.

The battle for UP is well and truly on.

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Readers may also like to read:
1. Maya chal: Advani lal Sonia behal
2. Mayawati's 'Ts' trounce Congress' 'Rs'
3. Mayawati and dalit power