Aug 28th 2003 | DELHI
Political turmoil in India's
IT WAS never a love-match and they made an unlikely couple. Mayawati, chief minister until this week of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is a Dalit, a member of the group once known as “untouchable” that languishes beneath the caste system. Yet her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had cohabited for 15 months in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalists who head the central government and derive their core support from middle-class, higher-caste Hindus. Their divorce on August 25th, bringing the collapse of the state government, will have repercussions far beyond India's largest state.
Miss Mayawati's only discernible policy has been the promotion of Dalit interests. It is the source of her political strength, giving her an apparently unbreakable “vote bank” of nearly a quarter of the state electorate. This has enabled her to ride out a succession of scandals: a lavish birthday party for which she dipped into government funds; videos showing her, in effect, soliciting bribes; alleged corruption in a project—since stopped—to build a shopping mall next to the Taj Mahal.
The BJP's failure to stop an investigation into the Taj Mahal projects seems to have led Miss Mayawati to call the whole thing off. State-level BJP leaders heaved sighs of relief. The alliance was alienating their own supporters, and was sustained only in the interests of the national party: the BSP has useful voters in other states, like neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, and in Delhi.
The BJP needs to prevent Miss Mayawati from joining forces with the main national opposition party, Congress. The BJP hopes to regain control of four Congress-ruled states, in elections this November. The BSP's seats may also be crucial in the national coalition arithmetic after next year's general elections.
So the loss of the BSP alliance is a blow to the BJP. But things could be worse. The likely outcome is a new coalition government led by the largest single party, Samajwadi, which draws its support from lower-caste Hindus and Muslims. Congress has lent its support to this plan. But Miss Mayawati is well-known for holding a grudge and will not be best pleased.