x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mayawati, the 'Dalit Queen' set to be dethroned as UP chief minister

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was set to lose office after her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fell to about 79 seats in the 403-seat state assembly after winning 206 in the previous election.

NEW DELHI // Mayawati, India's low-caste "Dalit queen" who once saw herself as a future prime minister, was dethroned yesterday after a colourful and scandal-tainted term running the country's largest state.

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was set to lose office after her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fell to about 79 seats in the 403-seat state assembly after winning 206 in the previous election.

Mayawati, 56, rose from a community of "untouchables" at the bottom of the Hindu caste structure to rule over Uttar Pradesh, a state with a population of 200 million people.

She attracted strong support from Dalits and other marginalised groups who saw her as a champion of the poor fighting against the ruling elite.

Styling herself as a "living goddess", she has often attacked the Congress party government as a corrupt and self-serving cabal that failed to tackle poverty.

But she also drew sharp criticism for her own taste for extravagance, as well as allegations of financial malpractice within her state government - both issues seen as major factors in her dramatic collapse of support.

Born into a leatherworkers' family on the outskirts of New Delhi in 1956, Mayawati was studying law when she was talent-spotted by the then BSP president Kanshi Ram in the mid-1980s.

Mr Ram persuaded her to join politics, telling her "she was born to rule" rather than to serve.

Within a decade, Mayawati had become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for the first of her four stints in power.

Her latest - and by far longest - term in office, which began in 2007, has seen some economic development, as well as controversy over her building parks with huge statutes of herself and other low-caste icons.

Public records show that more than 50 billion rupees (Dh3.67bn) were spent on the projects, but Mayawati has always brushed off allegations of arrogance, saying the parks acted as a "lighthouse" for downtrodden Dalits.

Her long-term adversary, Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party (SP) defeated her by a thumping margin in the elections, has often vowed to raze the parks.

Mr Yadav, 72, a former wrestler famed for his rivalry with Mayawati, is in line to become chief minister for the fourth time since 1989.

His son Akhilesh, the party's state president and a rising political star, told celebrating supporters that "it was only the SP which came out on the streets on issues of public interest".

In opposition, Mayawati is likely to be a dogged foe, but she would be without the influence and power that critics say went to her head and turned her, in the words of a leaked US diplomatic cable, into a "first-rate egomaniac".

The US cables released last year by the WikiLeaks website recounted a story in which she was said to have sent her private jet to pick up a pair of sandals from Mumbai.

The cables also alleged that she celebrated her birthday each year by receiving millions of dollars from "sycophantic party members, civil servants and business people", while officials vied to feed her cake.

Mayawati denied all the allegations and demanded that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be thrown into a mental asylum.