NEW DELHI: Machiavellian Sharad Pawar has set the ball rolling to project Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati as the Dalit face in his home state Maharashtra. The Congress and Nationalist Congress party who are working together in Maharashtra against the Bharatiya Janata Party, are keen to ensure an opening for Mayawati in the state to give direction to the presently directionless and divided Dalit groups in the state.

Mayawati fits the bill for three reasons. One, Mayawati still has a base amongst the Dalit groups in the Vidarbha region and is an acceptable personality. Her mentor and founder of BSP Kanshi Ram started his career from Pune, influenced by Jyotirao Phule, and this can be made a sentimental issue during the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Two, Pawar is playing the Marathas card but is determined to ensure that the BJP ploy to divide the Marathas from the Dalits does not succeed. And if Mayawati works with him this could weigh in favour of the Opposition parties.

Three, the current Dalit leaders from Maharashtra barely have a following in the state. Union Minister Ram Das Athawale and Prakash Ambedkar who is vacillating between the government and the opposition are not seen as candidates who can inspire and enthuse the Dalit masses in Maharashtra. Mayawati on the other hand, is a fighter with long experience of organising elections in Uttar Pradesh and can be expected to mobilise the community on a larger scale.

Maharashtra is being seen as a crucial state as the Congress-NCP are of the view that they can make an effective dent in the BJP hold on the state, and work towards reducing its numbers dramatically in the general elections. The Maratha stir, the farmers agitation, the Muslims alienation are all indicators that the BJP control over the state is slipping.

Pawar retains his position as the leader of the Marathas in the state, and manages a Machiavellian control over the community with the ten day agitation now turning into a jail bharo andolan. This will be further stepped up on August 9.

The Dalits, however, have no face in the state and Athawale with the BJP does not have the reach to influence this vote. Mayawati is a possible front runner for this slot outside Uttar Pradesh. She has excellent relations with Congress leader Sonia Gandhi as the embrace between the two in Bengaluru recently demonstrated, and currently the Opposition is working out the seat allocation in UP .

Sources said that of the 80 UP seats, BSP and SP will contest 30 seats each, with the Congress getting the bulk of the remaining 20 seats, with the remaining falling in the Rashtriya Lok Dal quota. The talks are proceeding well. Mayawati is looking to contest outside the state, and this possible tie up in Maharashtra could work towards this. The Opposition parties for the first time are trying to accomodate her ambitions, as of all the Dalit leaders in the country she alone has a national profile that can be used to advantage in the general elections.

The three Dalit leaders that crossed the fence to join the BJP in the 2014 elections have been reduced to ciphers in their constituency. In fact, both Ram Vilas Paswan and Athawale have now just a limited role of intervening every now and again and urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be more sensitive to the Dalit cause. Udit Raj, the third leader,barely speaks. Paswan, a force against Nitish Kumar-BJP’s first government as part of the larger Opposition combine with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal has lost his verve and his voice after joining the Modi government. He is no longer seen as a factor, by even the Janata Dal(U) in Bihar.

The BJP clearly does not trust Paswan, as he had been earlier an integral part of the Janata Dal and campaigned against the BJP. His credibility now, sources said, is at a low and revival seems impossible.