India’s low-caste queen Mayawati launches re-election bid

By AFP
Published: February 1, 2012

Chief Minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati waves towards a crowd during an election campaign rally in Sitapur, India on February 1, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

Supporters jubilate at an election campaign rally of chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati in Sitapur, India, on February 1, 2012. PHOTO: AFP Chief Minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati waves towards  a crowd during an election campaign rally  in Sitapur, India on February 1, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

SITAPUR, INDIA: India’s “Dalit Queen” Mayawati, who has ruled the country’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state since 2007, launched her re-election bid on Wednesday, reiterating vows to work for the downtrodden.

Crowds of supporters from the Dalit caste, formerly “untouchables” or the lowest social class, cheered and waved as she swooped down in a helicopter before appearing on stage clutching her trademark leather handbag.

Mayawati, who uses one name, has helped elevate the status of the low castes in the deeply impoverished Uttar Pradesh but is also accused of letting the state slide further into corruption and dysfunction.

She has also faced criticism for spending more than a billion dollars building giant statues of herself and her party symbol of an elephant, as well as memorials to past low-caste icons, in parks in the state capital Lucknow.

“It is the first time for this state that our government took up the cause of the Dalits and the deprived, as well as Muslims who were always neglected by successive regimes,” she said in an hour-long speech.

Uttar Pradesh, which goes to poll next Wednesday to elect a new state assembly, has a population of 200 million – about the size of Brazil’s and more than Pakistan’s entire population – and some of the most entrenched poverty in the world. Around 30% of the population lives below the poverty line and the rural female literacy rate is 56%, according to government data.

The state is influential in national politics as a power base – Mayawati once said she hoped to rule the nation – and is the home constituency of India’s dynastic Gandhi family, which has dominated post-independence India.

A Muslim singer was chosen to warm up the crowds, signalling the importance of the minority religious community in the state’s politics.

Mayawati, 56, dressed smartly in beige, sat alone on a raised armchair at the front of the platform before rising to speak as her ministers and the local candidates stood discreetly at the back.

The crowd of as many as 50,000, many of them families of low-caste farm labourers, were packed into a field in the town of Sitapur, about a two-hour drive northwest from Lucknow.

Many said the election of Mayawati as chief minister in 2007 had helped improve their lives as they were less often victims of persecution and harassment from higher castes.

Some described being forced to carry cow dung, or having new clothes ripped by the resentful higher castes. Others said they were previously prevented from drinking from the same wells as higher castes or eating near them.

“We have got tremendous relief. Now we don’t have to work under duress,” said Lakhan Pasi, a 24-year-old labourer with two children. “That is why we will stick with Mayawati.”

Few seemed bothered by allegations of corruption that swirl around her or criticism of her extravagant spending on her statues.

“It was only one percent of the budget on statues, and she made all these new parks,” said Kuldeep Bhati, 35.

In a speech focused largely on attacking her opponents, she promised 24-hour electricity to every home in her next term and said economic growth in Uttar Pradesh had increased during her reign.

She dwelt at length on the alleged corruption in the rival Congress party, which is in power in the national government and is pushing her in the state polls.

Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent of the Congress party and next in line in the Gandhi family, campaigned in Sitapur on Tuesday but in front of far smaller crowds.

Congress, Mayawati said, was stuck with an “anti-Dalit mindset”. “It cannot tolerate the daughter of Dalits ruling the state because Congress is basically anti-Dalit,” she said.

After her speech, she waved briefly at the crowds before heading for her helicopter as supporters rose to their feet and started dancing.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 1, 2012 - 7:44PM

    Truth about india still same mind set shame Recommend

  • na
    Feb 1, 2012 - 8:15PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    why?

    Recommend

  • Rajesh Parmar
    Feb 1, 2012 - 8:36PM

    If Congress builds statues of Nehru, Indira, Rajeev then it is noble work…….. but if Mayawati does it then it is self glorification…….. If Congress names roads, bridges, canals, airports, colleges, universities after Indira, Nehru then it is patriotism…… but if Mayawati does it is waste of public money…………. If Congress Gandhi family hides millions of rupees in Swiss banks then it is glory to Indians……………. but if Mayawati declares she has some money legally and openly then it is Corruption………….. If Gandhi family declares reservations then it is social service…….but if Mayawati talks about reservations then it is backward…………. If Congress perpetuates Prime Ministers as if it is their family business then it is ability and talent….. but if Mayawati says she wants another tenure in UP then it is a sin….. All because she is a Dalit and we Indians casteist mindset…………………………………They claim “Dalit atrocities are higher in UP under Mayawati’s regime” than any other previous chief ministers. All this is because Dalits could go to the police station and register their complaints which was never heard of before………………………………………………. Even now Dalits are prevented from complaining against inhuman, injustice meted out to them. Try googling “Hands and legs of a dalit youth severed in MP” – the news is on IBNLive Jan 29, 2012. Recommend

  • Lobe
    Feb 1, 2012 - 9:02PM

    @Ali Tanoli: So is of Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 1, 2012 - 11:23PM

    @Rajesh Parmar: The “Dalits” are the most precious of our people. Their economic and social emancipation will be the ultimate measure of India’s success. It is very dis-heartening to hear about the bad treatment meted out to them. The best bet for “Dalits” is any political party other than Congress and the Communists. Both have vested interests in having people divided along caste and class lines.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 2, 2012 - 12:03AM

    @Rajesh parmar
    May Allah help world largest Democacy.

    Recommend

  • Homa
    Feb 2, 2012 - 8:09AM

    @Ali Tanoli: And may Goddess Saraswati/Vakdevi/Maa Sharada/Vani/Mahashweta, the benevolent and merciful goddess of knowledge, refined speech and wisdom help you….

    Recommend

  • yen
    Feb 2, 2012 - 8:12AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    better care yourself then making imaginary problems in India.

    Recommend

  • kaalchakra
    Feb 2, 2012 - 9:29AM

    Rajesh

    I think Mayawati’s money on those statues is well spent. It’s a statement of dalit worth, and something India needs. Now, in a political scenario, people will of course criticize that; in the fact of an economic cruch, people will criticize that again; that is expected.

    Recommend

  • wasim
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:05PM

    @yen:
    300 millón Dalits who have been oppressed for the past 3500 years their struggle is no imaginary problem and the HDI indicators for muslims are even below that of Dalits and you are saying that this is an imaginary problem.

    Recommend

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