By Sharat Pradhan
Lucknow : The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was poised to take power in India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh after pulling off a spectacular showing Friday in assembly elections that dethroned the Samajwadi Party and also punctured the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav conceded defeat after a five-year reign and was set to submit his resignation to Governor T.V. Rajeswar following staggered elections in which a little over 50 million people voted peacefully.
As the vote count began at 7 a.m. Friday all over the sprawling state, the BSP quickly established its supremacy and was leading in 184 of the 402 seats where trends were available.
The BSP could end up with nearly 190 legislators in the not-so-badly fractured 403-member assembly, becoming the single largest party for the first time in the state, officials and political pundits said.
The results sparked off victory celebrations by tens of thousands of BSP supporters across the state who expected three-times chief minister Mayawati, 51, to take power in the state for a fourth time.
In the Taj Mahal city of Agra, a BSP stronghold, supporters took to the streets beating drums, showering flowers and distributing sweets.
The BSP sweep, all the way from Noida on New Delhi's outskirts to Ballia in Uttar Pradesh's eastern fringe bordering Nepal, simply drowned the Samajwadi Party, leaving it in the lead in just 97 seats.
Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who contested from two constituencies, was trailing in one: Bharthana. Several of his colleagues in the Samajwadi Party were humbled.
The BJP was winning in just 59 seats – its worst electoral showing since 1991. As for the Congress, which sought to dramatically improve upon its pathetic 2002 showing, was expected to finish with 25 seats – the same as the last time.
Smaller parties and independents were surging towards victory in 29 constituencies. Both this section and the Congress are expected to prop up the BSP to power although there are two opinions on this.
The elections also decimated the newly formed Apna Dal, a party based on the Kurmi community support base, as well as the Jan Morcha of Raj Babbar, the Bollywood actor-cum-politician who quit the Samajwadi Party in disgust about three years ago.
Congress spokesman and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal lost no time in sending the first feelers to Mayawati.
"Congratulations to Mayawati. The benefit of our campaign went to BSP," he said, referring to the aggressive anti-Samajwadi Party campaign the Congress undertook all over Uttar Pradesh ahead of and during the April 7-May 8 elections.
But despite the active campaigning by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her Amethi MP son Rahul Gandhi, the country's oldest political party failed to boost its vote share.
Congress leaders said the party had failed because it had lost its support base as well as the organizational network that it once had.
But even after nearly five hours of vote count, Mayawati, who has dramatically transformed the BSP from a party of Dalits, or traditional low castes and outcastes, to one that was ready to embrace Hindu upper castes as well, was closeted at her heavily guarded residence with her aides. She did not meet the media to outline her plans.
"We will prefer to sit in the opposition," a BJP spokesman said in New Delhi. "We are neither supporting anyone nor taking anyone's support."
Criminal don-turned-politician Raja Bhaiyya, backed by the Samajwadi Party, was trailing in Kunda. So was Louise Khurshid, the wife of state Congress chief Salman Khurshid who contested from Kamiganj.
Another big loser was Sonelal Patel, chief of Apna Dal and a BJP ally who seemed set to lose in Kholasla.
Mayawati has vowed to send Mualayam Singh Yadav, his Man Friday Amar Singh and Raja Bhaiyya to jail on charges of corruption and criminality if she forms a government.
The Uttar Pradesh elections were the first the BSP fought after actively wooing the Hindu upper castes it once virulently despised.
The makeover, party leaders explained, was aimed at building a long-term political umbrella like that of the Congress that would include everyone from the upper castes to minorities to Dalits – the cushion the Congress had for decades until it began cracking up in the late 1980s.
Today, the Congress has become an also ran in Uttar Pradesh, rapidly conceding space to BSP, BJP and Samajwadi Party.