When Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati moves on the streets of the state capital Lucknow, she has in attendance an army of at least 350 policemen and an assortment of 34 vehicles.
A security cover by the country's elite Special Protection Group (SPG) having been denied to her last year, Mayawati has ensured she has a heavier cover for herself. The SPG security is available only to the prime minister and former prime ministers. But Behenji, as she is called back home in Uttar Pradesh, had demanded it.
She had claimed there was a conspiracy to eliminate her and when she was denied the special security, even alleged that the Congress was part of it. In her quest for security, she even asked her officials to study the stringent Israeli security apparatus.
With a huge force moving with her, a curfew-like situation prevails wherever she goes. Shopkeepers are told to down shutters till the chief minister whizzes past, the traffic is halted, and onlookers are told to look the other way.
Her official residence as well as the entire Kalidas Marg on which the house is located were turned into a heavily barricaded fortress long ago, while her office has witnessed drastic alterations with the enhanced security in recent days.
These include an exclusive entry and exit gates and a dedicated elevator that lands directly into the chief minister's chamber. Her room has been renovated with expensive vitrified tiles and granite, like top business tycoons, and the wash room could beat one in any seven-star hotel.
To add to the opulence is some of the best imported furniture personally approved by her.
The chief minister's occasional visits to her office at Lucknow's Shastri Bhavan, her frequent trips to the airport from where she is currently busy shuttling on her election campaign in various states, and the passage of her convoy present an ordeal for all and sundry.
The situation was no different even before she raised the demand for an SPG cover. But the passion of the state police bigwigs to keep enhancing her security appears to be growing.
The citizens have to face the brunt of the traffic snarls each time she steps out of her impregnable mansion, whose surroundings resemble those of 7, Race Course Road, the official residence of the prime minister in New Delhi.
Mayawati now proposes to have a helipad built right across the CM's house on a piece of land for which negotiations are on with the 164-year-old La Martiniere College, owners of the property.
Whether it is a passer-by, a shopkeeper or a resident living along the 14-km route from her official residence to the Lucknow airport, none is spared the trauma.
"We are told to suspend all activity, push away customers and sometimes even shut our shops each time Mayawati passes by," omplained a petty shopkeeper, who is too scared to give out his name.
"We must keep far away from the road but also look the other way while her convoy is passing," said a worker at a petrol pump along the way to the airport, who too declined to give his name for fear of retribution.
A retired railway official residing along the route recalled to IANS: "I was sitting on my terrace when a cop shouted at me to get inside my house and not even peep out until the chief minister's motorcade was gone."
To top it all, state director-general of police Vikram Singh and Lucknow zonal inspector-general of police Arvind Jain invariably accompany the chief minister on her election tours to other states where they are expected to coordinate her security with local officials.
The exercise began after a handful of Samajwadi Party workers staged a protest demonstration in front of her car as she was driving down somewhere in Madhya Pradesh last year.
Former state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Kesri Nath Tripathi wondered: "Does Mayawati realise that she is living in a democracy?"
"No one, howsoever high and mighty, was entitled to make the lives of the common citizens miserable; even former prime minister Atal ihari Vajpayee never allowed such inconvenience to anyone whenever he came calling to Lucknow, his constituency," he said.
State Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi felt that "every chief minister is entitled to certain security, but Mayawati seems to be obsessed with it. She thinks it is her right to trample upon civil liberties of common people".
Claiming that his elder brother and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav never allowed common citizens to be harassed because of his movements, Samajwadi Party state president Shivpal Yadav said: "Mayawati thinks she is a feudal Maharani who does not allow lesser mortals to get anywhere close to her".
Defending her security, a top police officer of the state maintained to IANS: "We cannot take any chances with the chief minister's ecurity. We have clear inputs about all kinds of threat to her life."