By Sharat Pradhan
Lucknow : Saying her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had ushered in social change in Uttar Pradesh, three-time chief minister Mayawati Friday steered the party to a spectacular victory in elections to India's most populous state and set the stage to play a larger role in national politics.
Having transformed the once exclusively Dalit BSP to the one wooing all social classes, including upper caste Brahmins, Mayawati, 51, was set to rule India's politically key state on her own with a projected 211 seats for her party in a house of 402.
The announcement of the final tally was delayed as the counting of votes got disrupted due to power failure here.
"A big social change has taken place in Uttar Pradesh and all sections of society has supported the party. Our chalking out a carefully planned strategy has brought this success," a beaming Mayawati told a crowded press conference as cameras whirred and photographers clicked.
It is the first time since 1991 any party has won a majority in Uttar Pradesh.
The sheer scale and spread of her win, from New Delhi's border in the west all the way to the eastern region close to Bihar, stunned even her friends, sparking frenzied celebrations by thousands of her mostly poor Dalit supporters dressed in many places in simple vests.
Shouting "Mayawati Zindabad" and "BSP Zindabad", the BSP backers took to the streets in virtually every town and city across Uttar Pradesh, bursting crackers and distributing sweets.
Soon after Mayawati's thunderous victory, the state capital experienced a severe thunderstorm plunging the city in darkness which her rivals too were now finding themselves in.
The heavy downpour led to uprooting of trees at the BJP office, bringing down posters of party leaders Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh as if to announce their political plight.
A humbled Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, left behind at a distant second, submitted his resignation to Governor T.V. Rajeshwar and then vented his anger at the Congress party and the Election Commission. The Samajwadi Party gets 98 seats – 45 less than in 2002.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had been dreaming of making a comeback in Uttar Pradesh, was badly punctured. To the shock of its leadership, it won 40 seats – its worst showing in the state since 1991.
Admitting that the defeat was due to some shortcomings, BJP president Rajnath Singh refused to own up responsibility for it saying "what responsibility, we do accept defeat."
Asked whether it was a setback for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which too had played a role in the elections, he said: "The management was fully in our (BJP) control."
As for the Congress, it was left in the dumps with a mere 23 seats, marginally less than its pathetic showing of 2002, proving that party boss Sonia Gandhi and her MP son Rahul Gandhi had failed to click.
Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, one of the few who predicted a clear BSP victory as far back as April 9, two days after the staggered elections began in the state, credited the BSP win to Mualayam Singh Yadav's misrule.
Rao told IANS that almost every caste and religious group had voted for BSP.
"Such a victory would have been unthinkable but for Mulayam's poor governance," he said. "This time governance was on top of the agenda. Caste was not in the forefront. This is the real story of this election.
"Because Mualayam too has a caste base, he managed to deflect mass anger to a great extent," he went on. "The BJP and Congress, without significant support of caste groups, got mauled."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the political class in congratulating Mayawati, a schoolteacher who took to politics in 1984, the year BSP was born, and quickly rose up the ladder under the guidance of BSP's founder leader and mentor Kanshi Ram.
She briefly became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for the first time in 1995 – also the first time any Dalit ruled any state. She again ruled Uttar Pradesh in 1997 and 2002-03.
Mayawati is poised to be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 166 million, for a fourth time – now for five years.
Friday's victory makes Mayawati a major factor in India's upcoming presidential polls since the voters are members of parliament and assemblies in the state.
The clout in Uttar Pradesh, which elects 80 MPs and has accounted for most of India's prime ministers, would also make BSP a key player nationally.
In recent years, Mayawati brought about a radical shift in BSP by embracing all communities including the Hindu upper castes it once so openly despised.
Staggered elections in Uttar Pradesh took place from April 7 to May 8, and 50 million voters exercised their franchise in complete peace. BSP supporters rated this as one of the main reasons for their victory.
But Mulayam Singh blamed the Election Commission, saying it had tried to run a parallel government throughout the election.
The Congress tried to reach out to Mayawati.
"Congratulations to Mayawati. The benefit of our campaign went to the BSP," Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal remarked, referring to the aggressive anti-Samajwadi campaign his party undertook.
The BJP's actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha also hailed Mayawati's win and said: "It is time for introspection for all of us. We have not been able to live up to the expectations of the people."
The Left was wiped out, as were the Apna Dal party that had lined up with BJP and the Jan Morcha of former prime minister V.P. Singh.
Mayawati has vowed to send Mualayam Singh Yadav and Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh to jail on charges of corruption and criminality should she form the government.