NEW DELHI // A powerful Indian politician who styles herself as a saviour of the country's downtrodden "untouchables" sent her private jet to pick up a pair of sandals, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.
Mayawati, who uses only one name, is the chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh and the head of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), as well as a Dalit, a member of an "untouchable" caste.
The US embassy cables from 2007 to 2009 released by WikiLeaks in recent days described Mayawati, 55, as "a first-rate egomaniac" who was "obsessed with becoming prime minister".
They said Mayawati celebrated her birthday by receiving millions of dollars in gifts from "sycophantic party members, civil servants and business people" while officials vied for a chance to feed her cake.
"When she needed new sandals, her private jet flew empty to Mumbai to retrieve her preferred brand," a cable dated October 2008 reported, adding that she had employed food tasters to guard against poisoning.
"She constructed a private road from her residence to her office, which is cleaned immediately after her multiple-vehicle convoy reaches its destination," the cable said in an analysis of her "eccentricities, whims and insecurities".
It added an account of Mayawati making a state minister do sit-ups in front of her as punishment for a minor protocol error, and reported it cost US$250,000 (Dh917,500) to run as a BSP parliamentary candidate because of "institutionalised corruption".
Mayawati and the BSP performed below expectations in national elections in 2009, winning just 21 seats in the 543-seat parliament, but she retained strong support among low-caste Indians across the north of the country. She has often been criticised for extravagance, erecting huge statues of herself in public parks and being greeted at rallies with garlands made out of 1,000-rupee (Dh80) bank notes.
Mayawati, an unmarried former schoolteacher, known as the "Dalit Queen" for her loyal vote base, did not respond to the allegations made in the cables. In her current term, Mayawati has run Uttar Pradesh since May 2007 and was also chief minister from 2002 to 2003.