After Mamata Bannerjee's pullout, the Manmohan Singh government has lost its legitimacy. It may survive on the outside support of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, but such survival will come with plunging legitimacy. UPA has no chance of returning to power whether elections are held now or in 2014. But who wins those elections depends on who is foremost in opposing UPA's slash-and-burn politics and loot. It is a battle of minds now, and whoever scores there takes the winning cup.

BJP believes power is its own for the taking whenever elections are held. It reckons anti-incumbency will work in its favour. Not necessarily. Not necessarily enough for it to storm back to power on its own or as leader of the NDA opposition. A political party has to do heavy lifting to win the hearts and minds of people; it must not only be with people but seen to be so; it has to provide an alternate vision; it must decide on its prime minister: BJP is not doing any of this.

With all her limitations, Mamata Bannerjee is doing more to blacken the image of UPA than BJP. Her 1 October protest in Jantar Mantar against retail FDI may not be a great success on logical parameters, but she is unfazed. She is risking a lot to carry her battle against UPA to Delhi, which is not West Bengal. But who knows, the public, impressed by her courage and conviction, may turn out in large numbers to support her fight for them. Everything does not turn on money power in this country. For all one knows, Mamata may collect the crowds that Anna Hazare attracted one week in April one year ago. Good intentions never go unrecognized.

On the other hand, the fate of the over-clever operator, Mulayam Singh Yadav, is sealed, who has privileged his own prime-ministerial ambitions over battling the sellout of the Centre. Mulayam's opportunism has been exposed. On the issue of retail FDI and other harsh government pronouncements, he wants to build a Third Front to be led by him, and he won't rock the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi regime until he is sure of his position. That is cynicism. He tried to break NDA by enticing the Badals, but that is unlikely to work.

Mulayam Singh's self-centred politics will eventually blow up in his face. The longer he remains associated with UPA, the more he courts the anger of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. Nobody believes that he supports UPA to keep the "communal forces at bay". Laloo Prasad Yadav duped Bihar's Muslims with the same slogan, but not for long. Mulayam Yadav will meet his come-uppance very soon.

The real power to damage UPA currently lies with Mamata, and as a woman "scorned", she will not rest till she sees the Manmohan Singh government gutted. The regime will throw all manner of dirt at her, including that she is allied with "communal forces", but this is unlikely to deter Mamata. As a former Congress leader, she knows the ways of the party. She knows what is coming, and her integrity will be a mighty threat to the government. The government will soon find it cannot hide behind its cheerleaders in the mainstream media. She will come with the destructive power of Anna Hazare, but with none of his naivete. The regime faces its biggest danger now.

This presents a great opportunity for the opposition, especially BJP, to press its own campaign against the Manmohan Singh government. It is obvious that BJP does not have the numbers to defeat the government in a confidence vote. But it can encash on public opinion which has vastly turned against the government, and which will harden with the campaign of Mamata Bannerjee and others.

The central idea of BJP's campaign should not be to bring down the government, which will open it to charges of unconstitutional politics. But it must gear up more than now to paint the regime black on corruption and as a facilitator of foreign capitalist domination. It must speak with one voice, and it must go for broke, just in the way Mamata is doing. Mamata sacrificed power in the Centre, and the Centre will be petty in not financially bailing out West Bengal. But that has not frightened Mamata Bannerjee.

In life as in politics, actions count more than words. Risking a bad name, BJP blocked Parliament on Coalgate. The risk paid off, with public opinion backing it. It must work double hard to return public focus on UPA corruption, and it must learn from Mamata who is unsparing of her political enemies. A battle of minds is beginning to rage, and it is BJP's last opportunity to make a difference.