Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has decided to "stay away" from a lavish birthday bash as she turns 53 on Thursday, but she will shower gifts on the downtrodden by announcing welfare schemes for them on the occasion.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief is believed to have abandoned the usually grand celebrations because of allegations that her party members collected huge sums of money to gift her on her birthday. However, the official reason given is that it comes in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack.
"No bash on my birthday this year," she is believed to have told officials and followers who have always organised mega celebrations Jan 15, specially during her chief ministerial tenures.
Instead of the opulent display of her classy solitaires, she is now all set to gift to the state of 160 million people a slew of welfare schemes worth over Rs.10 billion (Rs. 1,000 crore or $205 million) targeting the social sector.
"Shiksha Sahayta scheme for poor girls and Sarvajan Hitaay Gareeb Basti scheme are the two important welfare projects to be announced by the chief minister," a senior official of the state education directorate told IANS.
The 1956 born Dalit leader of Uttar Pradesh used to celebrate the day as Aarthik Sahayog Diwas (financial support day), with BSP leaders and workers making donations to the party.
There have been allegations that these donations actually came from money extorted by party workers, legislators and MPs from government officials and contractors of public works. She has been accused by opposition parties of keeping all this money for herself instead of passing it on to the party.
Her birthday this time has been overshadowed by the December murder of a public works engineer involving BSP legislator Shekhar Tiwari. The MLA allegedly lynched the engineer after he refused to donate Rs.5 million for the chief minister's birthday.
Following this, her staunch opponent Samajwadi Party released a CD claiming that two senior BSP leaders had given Rs.2 million to a Delhi-based party member for distribution among 39 party workers. They were in turn told to make drafts of small amounts in the name of Mayawati, according to the CD.
Many in the party believe it is perhaps to avoid any controversy that Mayawati's extravagant celebrations have been dropped this year.
The cake-cutting ritual that was in the past followed by members of her inner coterie being granted the privilege of offering the cake to her, will not be a public affair this time. In 2008, state police chief Vikram Singh (in uniform) giving her a piece of cake was a glaring sight.
Though a special 53 kg cake (to mark the 53rd birthday) is believed to have been ordered from the city's top bakery, the ritual will be carried out in private - particularly sans the media.
Also, the usual repeat of the ritual in the national capital, New Delhi, later in the afternoon has been abandoned this time.
A brief 30-minute programme has been planned at her official residence here for unveiling the schemes that will be displayed on granite plaques. The ceremony to be held in the presence of her ministers, senior officials and the media will be preceded by her speech. Unlike the past, there will be no cultural events either.
Evidently, her objective is to send the message loud and clear that more than any bash, she is interested in the well-being of the downtrodden.
Under the Shiksha Sahayta scheme, a financial assistance of Rs.25,000 would be granted to poor girls from among Scheduled Castes, other backward classes (OBC) and even the general category, the official said.
To cater to the housing needs of the poor, Mayawati will launch the Sarvajan Hitaay Gareeb Basti Scheme (SHGBS) under which several illegal neighbourhoods, including those inhabited by slumdwellers, will be regularised.
Mayawati had also announced earlier that the BSP will observe her 53rd birthday as Dhikkar Diwas (day of condemnation) against the state's opposition parties to counter what the party calls a conspiracy hatched by them to defame it over the killing of the engineer in Auraiya.
Mayawati had said that on her birthday, rallies would be organised at all the headquarters of the 403 assembly constituencies where the party leaders would give a befitting reply to the opposition's charges.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress will organise protests and demonstrations against alleged extortion under the Mayawati regime.