With Mamata Banerjee withdrawing from the UPA, the survival of Dr Manmohan Singh's government depends largely upon the two powerhouses from Uttar Pradesh - Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
Mr Yadav has earned his reputation as a wily partner not averse expedient betrayals. He said today that his Samajwadi Party will decide tomorrow on whether to continue his current arrangement with Dr Manmohan Singh's government. "Let this be a wake-up call for the Congress, " he said, "what has it given the people other than price-rise and corruption?" With his 22 Lok Sabha MPs, the external support Mr Yadav provides to the UPA has become a lifeline after Ms Banerjee's angry exit, attributed by her to the Centre's decision to increase diesel prices, cap the supply of subsidised cooking gas to households, and open up the retail sector to allow the entry of foreign chains like Wal-Mart and Tesco.
Without Ms Banerjee, the UPA is in a minority. But with support from Mr Yadav and Mayawati, the coalition has about 300 MPs on its side, comfortably more than the 272 it needs to stay in power. However, both Mr Yadav and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are opposed to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail.
Mr Yadav has in the recent past been urging his party to prep for mid-term polls - a strategy aimed at proving to the centre that it needs to keep Mr Yadav happy. His son, Akhilesh, delivered a historic win in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, taking with force a state that had been with Mayawati. If general elections were held now, the party would likely see a huge gain in its number of seats in parliament. His party leaders have exploited the current crisis for the UPA to insult the Congress.
"We will not join the Congress...any party that does so will be wiped out in the general elections," said Ram Gopal Yadav. Another leader, Mohan Singh, said, "We won the elections in UP because we took on the Congress. We will continue our opposition."
The opposite applies to Mayawati, which is why she could hold the key to the UPA's future. Her party was exposed to a humiliating defeat in the UP elections because of allegations of deeply-entrenched graft. She needs more time to reconstruct her party's image; an election now would not serve her party well. The BSP chief is yet to react to yesterday's developments, but party sources say a decision on her relationship with the Congress can be expected on October 9, when she meets party leaders.
Political watchers say it is the Mulayam vs Mayawati equation in UP that could swing Mr Yadav's decision. He can ill-afford to let his arch political rival step in as the crucial ally that saves the UPA government and ensures it lasts its full term till 2014. Ms Mayawati's 21 MPs are enough to keep the UPA in a majority.