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Mayawati: Short sprint queen?
Mayawati impressed with her efficiency during her brief stints in office. The long run, however, was another story.
On a hot summer noon in 1997, Mayawati, still raw and having just taken over as chief minister for the second time, rushed to her dream project, Ambedkar Udyan, and found an empty pedestal, with the dalit icon's statue nowhere in sight. "Agar kal tak yahan moorti nahin lagi toh?" she asked menacingly. "To Jai Shankar Mishra khud yahan khada ho jayega!" The senior IAS officer's wit eased the tension.
The fascination with statues had just started, but work on other fronts was breezy too. The criminals were fast entering prisons, the organised mafia was facing the gun, and streets were back to the normal bustle. The whip was cracked to push development work in Ambedkar villages, aimed to improve the lives of dalits.
That was it. Mayawati knew she had six months in power, and did not see the uneasy alliance with the BJP lasting long. On display was the instant delivery from the famous, mostly compromised, babudom of Uttar Pradesh.
The work chosen was caste-partisan, leading to much heartburn in the Kalyan Singh-led BJP, but that was the proud manifesto of the fledgling outfit of 60-odd MLAs - crime, dalit welfare and dalit pride. Blunt and dictatorial, the czarina was exemplary in short bursts. Her three chief ministerial innings of four, six and 15 months stand in sharp contrast to her five-year term that ends on March 6.
The outcome of the battle for Lucknow may be a suspense, but the verdict is already out on Mayawati's first full term - the 'sprint queen' could not be a 'marathon marvel. '
That the Opposition, especially Mulayam Singh Yadav, thinks that corruption as poll plank is enough to oust Mayawati is an obvious sign of her abject failure, as is the evidence that the lot of dalits, who give her the headstart in polls with at least 15 per cent votes, has not changed.
The tidal wave which swept Mayawati to power on May 11, 2007, was of hope, an exasperated mass's last resort. A deeply fragmented populace, uppercastes, strong and weak backwards, came together as a monolith to ignore their deeprooted, reprehensible prejudices, and be called Mayawati's voters', bestowing the mandate with a historic value that future generations would marvel at.
The sheer nature of victory called for a vision to take governance to a new level, away from the rifraff of the last few years. Not all felt it was possible. Mayawati was used to short terms of few months, which allowed her to run an "order-and-deliver" administration. A full tenure required her to rule by a vision-sheet - have patience, conceive longterm policy decisions. Delivery was the last part.
But if there were skeptics, so were hopefuls who saw strong reasons for the impetuous leader to turn the corner. The numerical majority in the assembly would free her from the constraints on decision-making and the newfound support from non-dalits would afford her the cushion to undertake dalit welfare with greater intensity, otherwise a cause of heartburn.
While she was vulnerable on the corruption front, the rage against rival Mulayam Singh Yadav that she benefited from called for obvious course correction, not too much for a 24x7 politician. Above all, it was felt that her expanded support base and higher popularity would take her closer to the people, largely poor. There was everything for an acrimony-free reign. Though simplistic, many spoke of post-caste politics.
By general view, she was shown up, with the only redeeming feature being her old forte - crime. That she has to use the EC's decision to cover elephants and statues to rouse dalits betrays insecurity on the homefront while her return to overt caste politics proves she could not capitalise on 2007 verdict.
Little has gone right since she took up the CM's mantle. Honest bureaucrats have been on the run, seeking refuge in central deputations or facing the axe in Lucknow. The sordid tales are dime a dozen.
Those disappointed after five years lament that Mayawati should have taken charge, established direct dialogue with people like Mamata Banerjee, and then may be faltered, like TMC chief seems to be doing. It would still have been better. Instead, she outsourced governance to couple of officers with little commitment to either Kanshi Ram's manifesto or her 'sarvjan' motto. They are also seen as brains behind her prime ministerial obsession, which threw her off track.
Over five years, when scams and scandals tumbled out and controversies reigned supreme, she preferred the confines of high-walled, high-security mansion. The worst for a subaltern leader is the accusation of being 'invisible CM'.
In her moment of truth, with the vast land drowned in the campaign cacophony, Mayawati is back to politics she is master at. Not all would count her out, because this is one game where she is the best. Come March 6, she could still surprise the nay-sayers, but that would just be a Victory. What people asked for in 2007 was Vision.
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