Saturday, August 9, 2008

MAYAWATI / COVER STORY, India Today, August 18, 2008


Ma…Maya…Mayawati. This is one incantation that, in its audibility and audacity, rises above the usual din of desperation in Indian politics today.
Believers blinded by her halo-or by the flash of her diamond rings?-are convinced that her day has come and only she can remove the curse of bipolarity that keeps the dispossessed away from the highest seat of power. She, at her imperious and benevolent best, plays the role of Our Lady of Deliverance to perfection, all set to take that revolutionary leap from Kalidas Marg in Lucknow to Race Course Road in Delhi. As her spell spreads, guess who're falling at her feet with total submission.
Among the growing legion of salvation seekers are chieftains from regional satrapies, newly disarmed Stalinists who still blame it all on proofing errors in the Book, and sundry freelancers from the fringe-all characters in search of a winning plot and a director. She knows that the final victory will be a subversion of the established hierarchy of power. So her destination is history itself.
That is why when the prime minister won the trust vote on the nuclear deal, Mayawati refused to see it as a long-term political setback. In that moment of adversity, she saw an opportunity.
Overnight, the chief minister of India's most influential state became the third pillar of Indian politics-Sonia Gandhi and L.K. Advani being the other two.
Courtesy the nuclear deal, the non-Congress, non-BJP political alignment got a mascot, and mind you, this one is not a mere decorative piece, in spite of all that bling. Her politics is her biography, a narrative that combines the worst impulses of Indian society and the best of Indian democracy.
Her ambition broke the barriers of castiest India, and at 39, she became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, where politics is nasty, masculine and violent. And the state is also India's most productive prime-minister factory.
Today, Mayawati, at 52, is a four-time chief minister, the highest diva of Dalits, one of the country's smartest politicians with a direct access to her voters' conscience, and one of the most powerful women in the world.
It is pretty natural for such a politician to tap the possibilities of Indian democracy, which is elastic enough to accommodate almost every type. She asks: "If I am fit to rule the largest state of India, why can't I run the whole country?" (See interview)
Fortunately for her, there is now a confluence of her ambition and her allies' desperation. Her ambition is sustained by arithmetic: it was a record of sorts when she won 206 seats in the last Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, that too against such formidable opponents like Samajwadi Party, BJP and Congress, and all of them know that losing the heart of the heartland means only one thing; diminishing national clout.
She is a natural born winner, and those who have made a career out of parasitic power quickly acknowledged her market value when politics turned sharply triangular on the eve of the infamous trust vote.
Prakash Karat, the apparatchik-in-chief, who aspired to be the unofficial arbiter of the Government but humbled by a newly aggressive Manmohan Singh, was the first to see the revolutionary potential of caste.
Banished from the court of Sonia, he took refuge in the shadow of the next powerful woman. It was not that Mayawati was looking for companionship. The comrade was investing in the future. He was not alone.
Mayawati has left Kanshi Ram behind in terms of electoral achievementsJostling for space in her durbar were such big daddies of co-habitation politics as H.D. Deve Gowda, a former prime minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, a proven kingmaker, and Ajit Singh, a Jat leader.
When CPI's A.B. Bardhan declared, "Mayawati is fit to be the Prime Minister of India", he was echoing the sentiment of all those leaders who have suddenly discovered encashable virtues in behenji who began her journey from the back alleys of west Delhi.
What is it that makes her irresistible to such disparate leaders? There is hardly anyone like her in Indian politics today. She is the party, the policy; she is the me-alone leader whose power is absolute.
Her appeal is no longer regional: her fan club constitutes almost 10 per cent of Indian voters. Who else can boast of such singular star appeal across the nation?
She may be the Great Helmswoman of Dalits, and her electoral achievement greater than what Ambedkar or Jagjivan Ram or her mentor Kanshi Ram could do in their lifetime, but she refuses to be trapped in her own identity.
She wants to be inclusive in her own way. Gone is the Mayawati of the "tilak, taraju aur talwar/maro inko jute char" era. Brahmins, baniyas and thakurs are unlikely to get such a treatment in Mayadom.
The Manuvadi tirade is no longer in vogue. Brahmins, Muslims, traders…all are welcome. The social base is expanding, and there is a slogan to match: sarvajan hitaya/sarvajan sukhai. Earlier it was "bahujan hitaya/bahujan sukhai."
The sociology of Mayawati cannot be straitjacketed. It is reflected within her own party. Satish Mishra, confidant and chief social engineer, is the Brahmin face of the party. Akhilesh Das, a defector from the Congress and a former minister at the Centre, represents the Baniyas. Akbar Ahmed and Shahid Siddiqui are the Muslim faces.
Her social adaptability is matched by her ruthless pragmatism. In 1993, she supported the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government. She ditched him within 18 months. She struck an alliance with the Congress only to break it later and took BJP as her coalition supporter.

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