Sunday, 19 April 2009
Empress of Untouchables, ruler of India?
By Aakar Patel
There are three serious candidates for the post of prime minister of India, for which they must get 272 votes in the Lok Sabha.
The first is Congress's Manmohan Singh, whose alliance is predicted to get 220. The second is the BJP's Advani, whose alliance is predicted to get 180. The third is Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Her party is not expected to get more than 50 seats on its own. But she is more likely to become PM than Advani.
This is because India's national politics is oriented around opposition to the BJP, which is seen, correctly, as dangerous by most parties. But it is also because the Indian is emotional and believes in symbolism, in the grand moment. And the Untouchables of India, whom Mayawati represents, are owed this moment by India. The world and India will receive news of prime minister Mayawati with warmth.
Not everybody, of course. India's middle class, which is upper caste, hates Mayawati because of the way she looks, and thinks her uncultured. Our response to Untouchables is visceral and will not evaporate with education.
Mayawati is one of India's cleverest politicians, and will without doubt, whether in this election or after this, become prime minister. She is a sensational campaigner. Her opening line is: "Chamari hoon, kunwari hoon, tumhari hoon". I'm a cobbler's daughter; I'm unmarried; I'm yours. She does not pretend to have the Indian woman's coyness. The crowd goes wild.
Having been chief minister of UP four times, but never completing a term, she has openly enriched herself through her position. With no source of income, she pays Rs26 crore in tax last year, showing earnings of Rs80 crore. She explains this as money that her supporters give her in cash because they wish her to be rich. In the last five years, politicians in India have stopped hiding their wealth. She is at the head of this pack; corrupt, certainly, but no hypocrite.
She holds large, and loud, celebrations for her birthday every year. Mayawati was born on 15 January 1956, the year her hero B R Ambedkar died, to Prabhu Das Dayal, a clerk in the postal services. She is one of nine children, including six sons in succession, a matter of pride for her father. Though her Hindi accent is rustic, it might be so deliberately; the Dayals live in a shanty town in Delhi.
Read the full story here.