Jamuna Prasad Nishad, Uttar Pradesh’s Minister of State for Fisheries till recently, and now behind bars, is the fourth important BSP leader that Mayawati has swiftly punished for an alleged crime. The first was BSP MP Umakant Yadav accused last year of trying to grab property near Azamgarh. Once media reports named him, Mayawati had him arrested and expelled from the party.
The second was Raghunath Prasad Shankhwar, then Minister of State for Water Resources and Land Development. As soon as investigations were reopened into a Rs 50 lakh drug scam Shankhwar had allegedly figured in while he was chief medical officer of Barabanki district (he took to politics after retiring), she dropped him from her ministry. The third was Anand Sen Yadav, Minister of State for Food Processing, whose name was linked to the kidnapping and murder of a Faizabad college girl last November.
Such ‘sensitivity’ to media and public opinion was never Mayawati’s style during her earlier tenures. Even her response to the Aarushi murder — inviting the CBI to take over, transferring the inept policemen — reveals a new keenness to please the chattering classes. Of course, no brave new world of crime-free politics is being heralded. There are still, as Mulayam Singh Yadav reminded us recently, another 22 BSP MLAs and MPs with criminal charges against them. Still, the change in attitude is significant.
It has often been speculated that leaders like Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, who draw their support from the more deprived sections of society, can afford to ignore the media as their voters don’t read the papers. So why has Mayawati’s approach altered? Does she now feel that even though many of her voters still don’t follow the papers, their children have begun to? Do they now watch enough TV to start thinking?
The change seems to be an acknowledgement that the value systems of the educated middle-class and those of the impoverished aren’t all that far apart. It recognises that abhorrence of violence and crime is no longer a ‘bourgeois indulgence’. It extends to all sections of society, including to the biggest victims, the poor.