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Mayawati is for real

The 2012 Uttar Pradesh election boulder has started to roll and it's Mayawati who is first off the block. Come to think of it, she's the only one off the block. Chanakya writes.

india Updated: Oct 22, 2011 22:19 IST
Chanakya

The 2012 Uttar Pradesh election boulder has started to roll and it's Mayawati who is first off the block. Come to think of it, she's the only one off the block.

While folks in Delhi are busy chatting and tweeting about the 'monstrosity of self-adulation' that is the Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida, the multi-crore rupee park has put the UP chief minister up there for all to see - something that you can't say for the rest of the fray.

The sniggers and howls against her lavish birthday celebrations, her luxury handbags, and her shoes flown in from Mumbai may have their rightful source in (upper caste Hindu/upper class English-speaker?) indignation against crass displays of power and wealth. But assembly elections in UP have never been lost or won on subtle matters of form and propriety. They have been decided on that most in-your-face entity of them all: politics.

And Mayawati knows her politics.

But apart from her monument to Dalit pride - embodied in statues of herself - she has made a pre-emptive strike by warning the Dalit community of a 'cunning Congress plan' that will see the Grand Old Party nominate Sushilkumar Shinde or Meira Kumar, both Dalits, as prime minister. So if the Congress makes one of them PM, it will be a cosmetic, cynical move to win over the Dalit community that the BSP ostensibly represents. And if the Congress doesn't choose one of them, then, well, it as the continuing story of the Congress' upper-caste negligence.

The four-time chief minister, whose latest stint started in May 2007, doesn't seem to have the traditional anti-incumbency beast nipping at her heels this time. Sure, law and order have improved in UP. Even if investors are not rushing in where industry still fears to tread, anyone passing through Noida will figure out that infrastructure is more attractive at this end of the national capital region than at the other end in Gurgaon. As for the state's development indicators, they remain low, but largely because of a base line that has traditionally placed UP near the bottom of the national development pile.

But as always with UP and Mayawati, the real story lies in identity politics and tweaking and broadening its scope.

Over the last five years, Mayawati has singlehandedly hijacked the inclusive politics agenda that was the hallmark of the old Congress in UP. When she chose Satish Mishra, a Brahmin, as her adviser, its significance was not lost on folks who till recently viewed the Bahujan Samaj Party as the party for Dalit empowerment. With Dalits and upper-castes now part of her aspirational project, she has been making a bid to reach out to Muslims - again, a constituency once loyal to the Congress, which moved to Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and now seriously seems to be weighing its options about throwing in its lot with the BSP.

But even if one is talking about UP with its notorious caste dynamics, 113 million voters across 403 electoral seats don't fall into neat categories - thus the traditional revolving door situation since the end of Congress supremacy on December 5, 1989. Mayawati knows this and thus the push for a more all-embracing support system.

And it's not just caste-pickings any more; Mayawati is looking to break the class ceiling too.

While Rahul Gandhi is dropping by Dalit homes, making noises about Japanese encephalitis and railing against the shortage of fertilisers, Mayawati is turning on the flash with Noida playing home to not only the world's largest Dalit pride theme park but also the world's second-largest Formula 1 racing track. She may not be either Nitish Kumar or Narendra Modi yet, but she's certainly doing her bit to be seen as a bit of both. Let's just say that a polyster salwar-wearing Mayawati reaching out to 'People Like Us' seems less artificial than a motorcycle-riding Rahul Gandhi reaching out to 'People Like Them'. But, of course, the whole point in the 2012 UP polls - described as the 'semi-finals' for the 2014 general elections - is to get the votes of People of All Sorts.

So even as the chattering class - Congress spokespersons included - speculate on the brand of Mayawati's handbag and post-Wikinformed comments on Facebook about the UP chief minister's shoe and statue fixations, I'd be mighty surprised if UP 2012 is not in Mayawati's bag. Whatever brand that bag may be.