Lucknow: Mayawati never said it in so many words. But the BSP supremo threw enough hints during the poll campaign that she considered herself to be in the race for the prime minister’s post, should the opposition manage to contain the BJP.
At a rally in Ambedkarnagar, for example, she recalled that she has been elected to the Lok Sabha from that seat in the past. Time will tell. If all goes well, I will have to seek election from here again, she said, seemingly referring to the possibility of her entering Parliament through a by-election later, if something opened up in New Delhi.
The results, however, have been a disappointment for the four-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister, who former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao famously called a miracle of democracy when she became the CM the first time in 1995.
The BJP has trumped her Bahujan Samaj Party’s alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in the state. Yet her own party has done better than in 2014 Lok Sabha polls when it drew a complete blank.
The alliance in UP alliance happened against all odds, ending a bitter parting of ways between the two sides nearly 25 years ago.
SP workers had then attacked a BSP legislators’ meeting at the state guest house in Lucknow and reportedly roughed her up.
Mayawati referred to the infamous episode more than once even during the joint press conference where she and Akhilesh Yadav announced their gathbandhan earlier this year.
Born on 15 January 1956, the daughter of a postal worker, Mayawati did her BA from Delhi University, following it up with a BEd from Meerut University.
Dalit leader Kanshi Ram spotted her potential when she was a government school teacher in Delhi, also preparing to take the civil services exam. He is supposed to have told her that she was destined for bigger things. Why become an IAS officer when she could be a community leader from whom IAS officers take their orders, she was told. In 1984, she joined Kanshi Ram when he founded the BSP.
After three failed attempts, Mayawati made it to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1989.
Mayawati was elected the BSP president in December 2003, about two years after Kanshi Ram had declared she would be his successor. By that time, she had been the UP chief minister thrice. When she took oath the first time in 1995, she was the youngest CM the state had seen till then and the first Dalit woman to reach the post anywhere in the country.
That government and the ones formed in 1997 and 2002 lasted just months. But Mayawati served a full five-year term when she became CM the fourth time in 2007.
She earned a reputation of being a no-nonsense CM who ordered transfers and suspensions of IAS and IPS officers in bulk and sent high-profile mafia dons behind bars.
But over the years, in and out of power, she attracted a slew of controversies, beginning with corruption charges.
Mayawati’s assets had crossed Rs 110 crore when she filed a Rajya Sabha election affidavit in 2012. In 2007-08 assessment year, she paid Rs 26 crore as income tax, placing her among the 20 top taxpayers in the country. She has been photographed with huge garlands of currency notes. Her critics see this accumulation of wealth as a sign of corruption. She explains away much of it as gifts from supporters.
The alleged Taj Heritage Corridor scam dogged her for years, and she was charged with possessing assets disproportionate to her income.
She has also faced criticism over her autocratic style of functioning, apparently even insisting that bureaucrats remove their shoes when they visit her. In the party, she hasn’t allowed a second rung of leadership to emerge.
But for millions of Dalits and others, the BSP has over the decades worked hard to include Muslims and even upper caste Hindus in its fold the controversies don’t seem to matter. For them, she remains behenji, a sister.