After creating history by becoming chief minister of the country's largest state for the fourth time, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has set new goals for herself - to rule India some day and build a "casteless society".
"My aspiration to rise in life has brought me here today. I must confess I do look forward to occupying the highest chair in the country, one day," Mayawati, 51, said in her first exclusive interview to the print media.
While she is on one hand busy establishing her credentials as an administrator in a new mould, she also has her eyes set on the 2009 general election. "I have started preparing my own blueprint for much larger participation of BSP in the next Lok Sabha elections than ever before," she said in the 50-minute interview conducted at her private residence.
Mayawati is confident that the Dalit-Brahmin combination she forged in Uttar Pradesh would now attract other important social groups. "While Muslims have begun to drift towards us, a number of backward castes too are throwing their lot behind us."
And what makes her believe that her BSP would be in the reckoning in other states? "Well, each time we have risen to power, our graph has gone up. Now that we have formed our first single-party majority government in Uttar Pradesh, the message has gone far and wide that we are here to stay and that we have the potential to establish BSP rule in other states too," she added with an air of confidence.
"We are the only party in the country with a solid base vote in every state; the question is of tapping that vote, which in turn would attract others to forge the BSP ahead of most other parties in several other states."
Mayawati outlines her dreams. "I wish to achieve what my ideologues always dreamed of - establishing a society without the traditional hierarchy, where everyone is treated at par and where one's caste tag does not determine his status in that social hierarchy.
"Be it Narayana Guru, Shahuji Maharaj, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar or for that matter even manyavar (respected) Kanshi Ram, they all talked about the need for a casteless society but none of them could chart out a path to achieve that goal," she pointed out.
She added: "Even Kanshi Ramji could never imagine that upper caste Brahmin votes would ever be transferred to a party like ours. He was always circumspect about that and would not have easily ventured into an experiment of the kind we tried and that worked quite successfully in Uttar Pradesh."
For Mayawati, who clearly displays the potential of emerging as the only undisputed leader of India's 22 per cent Dalit population, the success story of her "social engineering" in the country's most populous state was not just a feather in her cap. It marks the beginning of a new social era that was inconceivable for many.
Mayawati's obvious bargain to use her party's potential numerical strength at the forthcoming presidential election to ensure a reprieve in what came to be known as the Taj Corridor corruption case has amply demonstrated her skills in getting over hurdles.
Sure enough, it could not have been any mean task to ensure that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was denied permission by the Uttar Pradesh governor to the pursue the charges against her.
But that is another charge she refutes. "All that talk about the governor's refusal being a trade-off for ensuring BSP's support to the central government is outright false propaganda," she asserted.
Sporting her favourite beige salwar-kameez, barefoot as she prefers to remain at her neatly manicured home (not the official residence), Mayawati went at length to talk about overcoming what at one point of time seemed like the most formidable social barrier - caste - that eventually gave her party a clear majority to rule Uttar Pradesh.
Admitting that it was a calculated risk, she claimed: "Somehow my inner voice always told me and gave me the confidence that I would not fail in my mission to bring about a social change, which was now being termed by the media as social engineering."
Asked how she felt establishing proximity to Brahmins who had traditionally been atop the 'manuvaadi' system, which she always abhorred, Mayawati said, "Well, I still maintain that the manuvaadi (caste hierarchy enunciated by ancient Hindu king Manu who was said to have laid down the laws of Hinduism) was very damaging and had harmed society in more ways than one; it was squarely responsible for forging social divides."
She hastens to add: "But the fact that we have succeeded in bringing down this social barrier at least in one state has proved that we have made a good beginning towards ridding the society of its manuvaadi shackles."
Attributing her success to formation of bhai-chara (social harmony) committees of Brahmins and Dalits across Uttar Pradesh, she says: "It was through these committees that we made a beginning and we would replicate a similar exercise in other states."