Women on top
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) contested the 2001 Tamil Nadu assembly polls in alliance with four or five smaller parties under Jayalalithaa’s leadership. She had anticipated a stiff challenge from the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by M.K. Karunanidhi, and much against her inclination, was willing to accommodate other parties in the government she expected to form.
In the event, the AIADMK trounced the DMK and swept the polls capturing a majority on its own. The DMK secured a single seat, that of Mr Karunanidhi, who, Jayalalithaa was to charge later, did not attend the state assembly even for a single day during the Assembly’s five-year term. Jayalalithaa had no qualms in disbanding the alliance on the back of which she rode to power. She threw all the parties out of it unceremoniously and conducted a one-party rule, only to lose out to Mr Karunanidhi’s DMK in the next polls for reasons we need not go into here. But hers was a remarkable electoral performance.
The first decade of the new millennium has seen some noteworthy electoral performances from India’s women politicians. Two senior Congressmen commanding tremendous political clout who were heading the governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively, Digvijay Singh and Ashok Gehlot, were thrown out of power by women politicians. Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh ran an unexpectedly successful “bijli pani sadak”campaign that caught Digvijay Singh completely off guard.
In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje ran a whirlwind campaign also on the bijli, pani aur sadak theme and overthrew the redoubtable Mr Gehlot. In Delhi, Chief Minister Sheila Dixit won a second term solely on the strength of her performance during her first term and swept aside a formidable challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party whose stronghold Delhi was and is supposed to be. In Jammu and Kashmir, the young daughter of the veteran Kashmiri leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti, led her newly-formed People’s Democratic Party to victory in alliance with the Congress and helped the two parties establish a coalition which still rules the State.
Jayalalithaa, Uma Bharati, Vasundhara Raje, Sheila Dixit, Mehbooba Mufti are all remarkable politicians who credibly demonstrated their leadership qualities and their management skills in getting their organisations to perform and obtain results. But the electoral performance of Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader who has captured power in Uttar Pradesh on the strength of a majority convincingly won by her party single-handedly without any formal allies, is even more remarkable.
Mayawati has proved herself as a leader and mobiliser of people, as an effective and outstanding party manager, as a fund raiser and above all as an electoral strategist. Her decision not to participate in last year’s UP municipal polls but to watch and study her rivals’ performances showed that she began planning the strategy for the April-May 2007 Assembly polls at a time when her rivals were totally complacent about them. By concentrating on the assembly polls single-mindedly she was able to keep her cadres on track and devote all their energies in one specific channel.
The UP poll outcome has belied all expectations and proved most predictions wrong. One feature of the outcome on which there was substantial agreement was that the BSP would emerge as the largest single party but that Mayawati would need to seek support from other parties to form a government. The results did not surprise her. She came to the Raj Bhavan to be sworn in as the Chief Minister with a list of Cabinet ministers in her pocket and gave it to the Governor T.V.Rajeshwar.
Even before being sworn in, she suspended three senior IAS officials. Immediately after being sworn in she transferred as many as 201 senior administrative and police officers and a day later another 25 officers. While observers of the UP poll scene and learned commentators speculated on the prospects or otherwise of the rainbow coalition of dalits, brahmins, Muslims and upper castes formed by her, she was supremely confident that she was playing a winning hand.
A great deal has already been written and spoken about Mayawati’s remarkable electoral performance. A great deal more will continue to be written because the BSP victory represents an event of extraordinary political and electoral importance that has shattered some myths, set some precedents, broken new ground in alliance politics and strategies and has the potential of being a trend-setter if pursued imaginatively.
However, Mayawati’s sweeping triumph is also a challenge that will test all her leadership talents. Admittedly, she is heading the UP government for the fourth time in circumstances that are in many ways unique if only because she has ridden to power on a wave of high expectations.
The Samajwadi Party’s disappointing show indicated that Mulayam Singh fell short of popular expectations even after being given the opportunity to deliver good governance. It is possibly because of the people’s lack of appreciation of the Development Council’s utility, despite it having a rich business tycoon like Anil Ambani on board, that Mayawati’s first administrative decision was to dissolve the Board. However, she may have been a bit hasty in disbanding the Board since it may give the impression that she is capable of, or is actually pursuing a calculated policy of political vendetta against Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh. Such an impression already exists.
The mass transfers, the selective promotions, and the creation of special posts, the induction of her party advisors into the ministry and the threats to send “Mulayamji and Amar Singhji” to jail and launch probes into their government’s decisions after February 2007 have contributed and strengthened that impression, Mayawati’s principal challenge lies in her capacity to overcome the impression that her administration will be sustained on and bureaucrats under her will be encouraged to pursue, a policy of vindictiveness.
The abolition, instead of re-constitution, of the Development Board suggests that she will concentrate less on the economic development of the State as a whole and more on selective distribution of benefits and amenities. However, identity politics has its own limits. Mayawati must remember that her earlier stints in power were unremarkable for results. Rather, they left her enmeshed in unsavoury controversies. She now heads a single-party government. She will be expected to keep all sections happy, not only the members of her loyal dalit base but also her newly acquired Brahmin-Muslim-Upper Castes combination. It is a challenge that can daunt any leader, but more so one who has set her eyes on New Delhi as her final destination.