New Delhi: Is caste politics subject now to the law of diminishing returns, and could this favour the mainstream parties such as Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party? Not so soon, but it is getting there.

Given the Dalit promotion quota bill drama in the Rajya Sabha, with Uttar Pradesh rivals, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), at one another’s throat, you would think caste politics is getting more entrenched. Not so. This is more in the nature of a last hurrah, and BSP and SP supremos, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, know it in their hearts.

The fate of the promotion quota bill is doomed. Whilst SP is isolated in opposing its passage in Parliament, no party, except the BSP, is for it either, but cannot publicly be seen to be going against Dalit interests. The problem is the Supreme Court. However the bill is titivated, the Supreme Court will strike it down. The Constituent Assembly approved entry-level reservations, and only for ten years. To extend it to promotions makes reservations perpetual and all-embracing, and hence unconstitutional.

Even in the worst case that the bill becomes law, it won’t alter the political status quo. Dalits from all over India aren’t going to rally behind Mayawati and make her prime minister. Dalits are proud that she has been Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister more than once. But Mayawati has failed in her determined forays in the remaining North Indian states and in the west. She remains condemned to fight her political battles with Mulayam Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, promotion quota bill or no promotion quota bill.

The personal history of Mulayam Yadav is unlikely to differ radically from that of the Dalit queen. Mulayam will be never more than a marauder from Uttar Pradesh. Basically untrustworthy, his prime-ministerial ambitions have been gutted by the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets’ case, and his Uttar Pradesh chief minister son, Akhilesh Yadav, also finds himself in the net. It is not a happy situation for father and son.

When Mandal politics shook the country in the early 1990s, Mulayam, Laloo Prasad Yadav, to a small extent, Nitish Kumar, and other Other Backward Class (OBC) leaders were the new political stars. They had their time in the sun, and they made hay, in Laloo’s case, quite literally. He will be away for a time in jail in the fodder scam.

Save Nitish Kumar, none of the other OBC politicians have risen above middle-caste politics and build critical support among other sections of society. Mulayam and Akhilesh had a historic mandate in the Uttar Pradesh elections some months ago, but they have squandered it. The Samajwadi Party will flounder in the next election, which happens to be the national poll. Ditto the fate of Mayawati, who couldn’t change the face of Uttar Pradesh with a historic mandate in 2007. And for his part, even Nitish Kumar appears to have lost steam.

Unlike OBC chieftains, who have proliferated all over the country, including in Tamil Nadu in the nasty persona of Pattali Makkal Katchi’s S.Ramadoss, the Dalits have had no one politically significant after B.R.Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram except Mayawati. And Mayawati is limited to Uttar Pradesh. Indeed, Uttar Pradesh appears the last citadel of caste hyper-politics, and Mayawati and Mulayam Yadav have become rigidly positioned as each other’s nemesis.

Which is, on the whole, good for the country, and even better if it powers ahead non-casteist mainstream parties. But that possibility lies in the future, and much depends on the conduct of Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both parties played caste cards in the Uttar Pradesh elections and were roundly defeated for doing so. In remaining mainstream lies the future of the two national parties, and hoary time will teach that lesson.