The contrast could not have been more stark. Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati celebrated her birthday with a massive rally on the outskirts of Lucknow, deliberately avoiding a show of excess in light of the plight of the Muzaffarnagar riot victims.
The BSP leader’s earlier birthdays were marked by unabashed shows of pomp and ostentation with the faithful garlanding her with rupee notes amounting to over a crore on occasion. She would be bedecked in diamonds and giant cakes would be cut. This time around, supporters who were trucked in were given Rs. 10 caps with the BSP’s logo — the elephant — on them, a clear imitation of the Aam Aadmi Party’s penchant for Gandhi caps.
In not having the usual over the top festivities, she is also highlighting the cavalier, almost callous, attitude of the state government which has left the riot victims to their own devices. It was galling even to the most non-judgmental, to see Samajwadi Party (SP) MLAs gallivanting in Greece and Amsterdam on supposed ‘study tours’ at the exchequer’s expense when even basic amenities are not available for those left homeless in the riots.
A stint out of power seems to have taught Mayawati a few lessons. Her biggest achievement has perhaps been to give Dalits a sense of pride and purpose. Initially she did this through lavish shows of opulence on the grounds that her followers would feel proud that a Dalit leader too could hold her own with the best of them.
Her schemes for Dalits changed the political geography of the state. This new found realism on the part of Mayawati should sound alarm bells in the SP camp. From a position of advantage, it has steadily frittered away all goodwill for it.
Law and order is in a shambles in the state, communal violence has claimed many lives and rendered thousands homeless. The BJP and AAP are nipping at its heels as is the BSP. Her penchant for luxury apart, Mayawati was credited with being a good administrator.
If she is seeking to regain lost ground in the state, the other parties in the fray will have to get their acts together very fast. In the days to come, Mayawati will find many suitors queuing up at the door.
Though she has said she will have no truck with anyone, she will in the end ally with a larger national political party. The rally was the signal that her electoral campaign has begun. And with it the battle for Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, looks set to become all the more interesting. And this will surely have a significant impact on who gets to take the throne in Delhi.