A year ago after addressing a press conference and replying to a barrage of questions at a five-star hotel in Delhi, four time UP Chief Minister Mayawati retired to an adjacent room skipping a normal practice to mingle with news hounds informally during lunch.
In the solo room she is guarded by armed men, like a “Maharani” she keeps top leaders of her party at bay, while tasting her choicest dishes. All of them are standing, some even with folded hands awaiting her orders. She doesn’t blink, no courtesies are offered, but before her departure, she tells her trusted lieutenant Satish Mishra, a Brahmin, to ensure journalists and party workers had proper lunch.
This is the typical Mayawati style of functioning, authoritarian, dictatorial, running her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with an iron fist and keeping all other leaders under her thumb. She is also credited with keeping a tight control over law and order in the most difficult state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) during her tenure. Even the communal riots returned to the state only after her exit.
Over past many years, she has been seriously weighing options of securing the prime ministerial mantle by exploiting her image of “Dalit ki Beti”. Her strength, a solid Dalit support base in the electorally significant state, most loyal and totally transferable vote bank, any politician will envy. She has voiced her prime ministerial ambitions by asking party workers to ensure a "big victory" for it in this Lok Sabha election so that she can deliver the Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. She has also cautioned her party cadre against becoming a "saleable commodity"
A few years ago, Jeremy Kahn in the Newsweek, drew parallels between Mayawati and US President Barrack Obama. He wrote: unlike Obama, who promised of a new politics that would transcend not only race but traditional ideology and corrupt Washington ways, Mayawati has built her power on demagogic class warfare. Her victory, if it comes, may be seen as a great leap forward for India's oppressed—but, ironically, will end up bolstering the caste system that has kept them in chains. Mayawati would likely be a highly divisive national leader—an anti-Obama—and not only domestically.
Her former aide, PL Punia, who served as the principal secretary in in 1995, 1997 and 2002 (now a Congress MP) recalls her first tenure, when she would not allow a second chair in the Chief Minister’s chamber. Her disdain for the top officers and even ministers, whom she would call off-shoots of a ‘manuvadi’ system was so evident that she would never offer a chair to them in her office. At times, to test loyalties of her officers and ministers, she would deliberately keep her sandals in the room and walk barefoot. And when someone reminded her, she would ask any accompanying official to fetch her sandals from the room, to show the officer his place and contempt to the system. Insiders say, that Punia, who though, publicly fell apart from Mayawati due to Taj corridor scam actually parted away as he had once refused to carry her sandals.
American diplomatic cables published in 2011 through WikiLeaks said Mayawati makes all the government decisions through her small group of advisors and that she has employed food tasters for security. A leaked cable also alleged that she sent a private jet to Mumbai to retrieve a pair of sandals. Even though, BSP has called WikiLeaks revelations as totally baseless, but those familiar with her working say, it is not a big deal.
While her compatriots Mamata Banerjee, J. Jayalalitha and even Sonia Gandhi are also known for keeping their party leaders in tight leash, but her proven record of governing an “ungovernable” state ranks her above others. A serving top UP officer narrates an anecdote, how during her chief minister-ship; police had booked her father and some of his accomplice on the charges of drunken and rash driving, when they were returning from Delhi after attending a late night party. In the morning, whole police department was in tizzy, after realizing the man in the lockup was father of the chief minister. Immediately, the police-man, who had stopped the vehicle and charged them, was suspended. Now it was the turn to apprise the chief minister about this incident before her father informs her adding spice to the whole incident. In fumbled words, both the home secretary and director general police, recounted the incident to Mayawati at her Lucknow residence, anticipating to invite her wreath. They sought apology and recounted actions taken against “erring” policemen. “She rocked on her sofa and in a fit of anger asked the police chief to immediately revoke suspension of police personnel. She praised personnel for doing their duties. And next thing, she did was to pick her phone and gave a tongue lashing to her father for drinking and then flaunting his relations with the chief minister,” recalls the officer.
Her biographer veteran journalist Ajoy Bose sees a sheer intensity of purpose in her. He says, though, she was timid both at school and college, she once confronted senior Janata Party leader Raj Narain on a public stage over his use of the controversial word ‘Harijan’ to describe Dalits.
But what stops Mayawati from to growing outside UP? Dalit leader Suresh Kanojia has a ready explanation for this. Mayawati has confined her party to few Dalit sub-castes Jatavs, Valmikis and Chammars. They together are 30-35% amongst Dalits in UP. But in other states, different sub-castes rule, like Paswans in Bihar and Mahars in Maharashtra. Also she has no appeal for 72% other sub-castes beyond the three who dominate UP. “Unlike Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has failed to grow as a leader of all Dalits. She has confined herself as leader of Jatavs, Valmikis and Chammars only. She suspects other castes and doesn’t include them in power hierarchy in the BSP, fearing their desertion. The day, she works for Dalit unity and gives space to other sub-castes, she will emerge as a national leader,” says Kanojia.
Another credit she shares is introducing a cadre system and building her party in a structured way. The only other organisation to match her cadres and structure is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), say her close aides. She has divided the UP into 24 zones. The heads of these zones are her eyes and ears. Before going to bed, she would hear reports from all these zonal heads that may be speeches of her rivals, attendance of people in their regions, reports about district administration, when she is in power and even the minutest details. “While she has no qualms to distribute parliament or assembly tickets to Brahmins, Thakurs, Muslims and others, these zonal heads are carefully chosen from her own caste. That helps her to keep a tight grip over party and on the administration also, when in power,” maintains the aide. Also she takes due care of training her workers. The first lessons they are imparted is to care least what appears in media.
Currently she seems to be in no mood to enter into alliances. She was almost forced to support the UPA to keep investigations in her cases in check. In its three-decade history, the BSP has entered into a pre-poll alliance only twice. It had fought the 1993 mid-term Assembly polls in alliance with the then Samajwadi Party, leading to the formation of a government under Mulayam Singh Yadav. Another mid-term Assembly election was held in 1996, for which the BSP tied up with the Congress, which gained significantly, garnering an impressive vote share of 29.13 percent. Before winning the Assembly polls on its own for the first time with a simple majority of 206 seats in a House of 403 in May 2007, the BSP had thrice formed the government in UP with support from the BJP — in 1995, 1997 and 2002. However, it refused to ally with the BJP in the 1998, 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
CONTROVERSIES SURROUNDING MAYAWATI
Taj corridor case: In 2002 the government of Uttar Pradesh began improvements of the infrastructure in the Taj Heritage Corridor, the important tourist area in Agra that includes the Taj Mahal. Suspecting there were financial irregularities, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided twelve residences, including Mayawati's.
In June 2007 Governor TV Rajeswar said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute her. Advocates unsuccessfully challenged the Governor's decision in court. The Supreme Court rejected the plea of the CBI and refused to direct the Governor to prosecute her.
Birthday bashes: Her birthdays have become major fund collection day as it is celebrated as Jan Kalyankari Diwas (People's Welfare Day. The SC employees are supposed to donate one-month salary to her.
Disproportionate assets case: In the 2007–08 assessment year, Mayawati paid an income tax of 26 crore, ranking among the top 20 taxpayers in the country. Earlier the CBI filed a case against her for owning assets disproportionate to her known sources of income. Her party asserts that her income comes from gifts and small contributions made by party workers and supporters.
On 3 August 2011 the Delhi High court dismissed the central government's appeal against Mayawati, stating that "she has fully discharged her obligations by disclosing the identities of all of her donors, the gifts had been donated by her supporters".
The central government decided not to file an appeal in the Supreme Court. On 13 March 2012 Mayawati revealed assets worth 111.26 crore in an affidavit filed with her nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha.
The disproportionate assets case was finally quashed on 6 July 2012—nine years later—by the Supreme Court. Based on an opinion received from the Directorate of Prosecution, the CBI decided not to file an appeal. The CBI finally closed their file on 8 October 2013.
Statues: In her tenures as a Chief Minister, Mayawati erected number of statues of Buddhist, Hindu, and Dalit icons like Gautam Buddha, Ravidas, Narayana Guru, Jyotirao Phule, Shahuji Maharaj, Periyar Ramasami, Ambedkar, BSP founder Kanshi Ram, and of herself. She spent over 2,500 crore on projects in five parks and at memorials such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal and Manyavar Kanshiram Smarak Sthal, built in the name of B.R. Ambedkar, Ramabai Ambedkar, and Kanshi Ram in Lucknow between 2007 and 2009. In October 2011 Mayawati inaugurated the Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden, built at a cost of 685 crore.