'Third Force' rises in Indian
politics By Siddharth
NEW DELHI - Fresh from leading
the Samajwadi Party (SP) to an absolute majority
in elections and sworn in this week as Uttar
Pradesh's new chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav has
wasted no time to stamp his authority by replacing
officials of the earlier Mayawati government with
Akhilesh, who at 38 is the
youngest and 33rd chief minister of India's most
politically important state, was credited with
steering the party to trounce the ruling Bahujan
Samaj Party (BSP), led by Mayawati, who goes by
one name and resigned from her post on March 7
after completing four terms in office. The SP won
224 of the 403 seats in the state assembly,
leaving Mayawati with only 80 seats.
results have underlined the emergence of new
provincial players in Indian politics, with
national parties the Congress and Bharatiya Janata
Party failing to attract voters who want leaders
who can deliver on clean
governance, law and order and who have a
forward-looking development agenda. The son of SP
chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh took the oath
of office on Thursday in Lucknow and immediately
reshuffled officials at the chief minister's
office, the seat of power in India's most populous
province. The choice of cabinet ministers showed
that the young Yadav did not fight shy of
including seniors in his team, according to the
Times of India, which said many were surprised
when senior leader Ambika Chowdhury was named,
despite the fact that he had lost his seat.
The question now is whether Akhilesh will
deliver. Five years ago, it was Mayawati who won
an absolute majority in Uttar Pradesh riding on
the votes of dalits, considered the lowest castes.
This time, the SP's appeal to the Muslims and
upper castes helped it see of the BSP, BJP and
The Congress campaign was led
aggressively by party scion Rahul Gandhi, 41. The
Gandhi family, Rahul's mother Sonia, sister
Priyanka, her two kids and husband Robert Vadra
also campaigned, but the people clearly want more
than the aura and bewitching smiles of India's top
Akhilesh has promised
to tackle criticisms that marred his father
Mulayam Singh Yadav's previous stints as chief
minister of UP, pledging to instill efficient
governance, weed out leaders with criminal links
and to push for development. UP continues to be
one of the most backward states in the country
unlike others such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil
Nadu, Karnatak. The people of UP believed Akhilesh
and have given the young man a chance.
contrast, Gandhi's party leads a federal coalition
government headed by Manmohan Singh that has been
found wanting in several major corruption
scandals. This factor would certainly have played
in the minds of the UP voters.
Congress and BJP also got it wrong in UP by
playing up the communal card to polarize voters,
with the former promising job quotas to Muslims, a
matter trumpeted by the latter as against the
interests of Hindus.
The ugly politics of
the 1990s saw several pitched BJP-Congress battles
in UP fought on communal agendas. Clearly the
electorate has learned not to trust such identity
politics to suit narrow ends. Short cuts to
enticing voters by drumming up emotional issues
are not going to work.
However, over the
last three years Mayawati's government has been
pronounced in its pro-dalit tilt, most notably in
the symbolic building of hundreds of statues in
massive parks dedicated to dalit leaders including
her own self. This combined with major issues of
law and order and corruption scandals, resulted in
Muslim and upper caste voters opting for the SP.
While Mayawati's development record has
been praised in some quarters, she has also faced
accusations of wasting state coffers on gargantuan
parks. Still the dalits, among the most exploited
communities, continue to be her diehard
supporters. She is still their "behenji''
or elder sister. But, this was not enough to win
her the election.
Upper caste and Muslim
votes were cast in favor of the SP though its
traditional support base has been the "backward"
Yadavs, an umbrella group of traditionally
non-elite castes. Akhilesh clearly succeeded where
Rahul and Mayawati failed.
While caste and
communal politics do play a role in Indian
politics, overarching benchmarks of growth, jobs,
corruption-free institutions, quality health and
education services and an impartial police
administration are the most important factor, as
the UP vote demonstrates. If Akhilesh manages to
meet these goals, there is every reason that he
will stay in power.
This trend has defined
leaders such as Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Narender
Modi in Gujarat, Sheila Dixit in Delhi, Naveen
Patnaik in Orissa and Tarun Gogoi in Assam.
After UP, some of the regional parties
sense a “Third Front” federal government taking
shape without the BJP and Congress. Others states
where the provincial outfits have emerged strongly
include Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Bihar,
Maharashtra and West Bengal.
government is clearly struggling. It will need to
rely on regional parties such as Trinamool
Congress of West Bengal and SP to push through key
reform proposals. It is a tricky situation as
allowing New Delhi to do well undermines the
position of the regional outfits.
is also in disarray and has not been able to find
a national leader of the stature of former prime
minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. As the situation
develops, some observers are predicting a mid-term
general election well ahead of the scheduled vote
Siddharth Srivastava is
a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at
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