One year on - Mayawati evokes hope as well as despair

May 12th, 2008 - 8:53 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party

Lucknow, May 12 (IANS) With an ambitious eye on the prime minister’s chair, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, the country’s first Dalit woman heading a state, completes a year in office Tuesday with a legacy of unfulfilled expectations and unbridled hope. Mayawati’s May 2007 election victory was significant for it was the first time in 16 years that the country’s most populous state got a single party government.

This also aroused speculation that she was headed for national politics in a big way - the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief had been openly proclaiming that she was destined to don the country’s highest political crown.

Winning largely on the previous Samajwadi Party (SP) government’s poor law and order record vis-a-vis her reputation built by three regimes of being tough against organised criminal gangs, Mayawati aroused many expectations.

There was hope that there would be a return to law and order under her rule. There also was anticipation that the state would take to the road of development with political stability under a single party rule.

She fulfilled some, reneged on several others. Politicians and political pundits say she could have done better. But public perception is divided between optimism and pessimism.

On governance, a close Mayawati associate, said: “For the first time, a development plan had been put in place.”

For instance, officials at the village block level - every block has over a dozen villages - had been told to identify four villages and develop them completely within a year. Similarly, at the city-level instructions had been issued to take up four municipal wards and create all facilities in 12 months.

“Even for a little slackness, officials are hauled up,” the official told IANS.

Her main political rival Samajwadi Party differed, however. Ujjwal Raman Singh, an environment minister in the SP regime, said: “There is little development. On the energy front, all the three recent projects initiated by the government were started by us. They are only bearing fruit now.”

Between brickbats and bouquets, Mayawati has continued to do what she thought right. She remained a single person political party, continued to treat the media with disdain, and her supporters, including legislators and ministers, had only to follow instructions.

She, for instance, got built massive bronze statues of herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram and inaugurated them herself.

She is currently dismantling a memorial to Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar comprising a library, sports complex, a research centre built for Rs.1,280 million during her own previous regimes and re-constructing it for Rs.12,000 million.

There is criticism all over at the wisdom of draining the exchequer on a single personal project, but just then her BSP won four crucial by-elections last month.

Even her worst critics concede that her 2009 Lok Sabha performance might drastically improve from the 17 seats of a total 80 from the state to anywhere between 30 and 35 seats. This would make her a force to reckon with on the national political scene.

The foremost hope from her return to power was that she would provide relief from a regime when gun-toting legislators of the SP were a common sight all across - when they would fish out pistols and open fire at the smallest provocation; when they would thrash policemen and officials objecting to their behaviour.

On that count, Mayawati scored a point though ironically the crime figures remain almost the same.

“There is no apparent let-up in the crime rate perhaps, but we no longer see a police officer being driven around on the bonnet of a jeep by SP members just because he asked for their licence. We don’t see a legislator slapping a traffic constable in the middle of the street and going scot-free,” said Aseem Hasnain, a young development consultant pursuing higher studies in sociology here.

This is the common opinion on the street. “There is less fear compared to the previous government,” Smita Mishra, a housewife in Lucknow’s Gomtinagar area, said.

But, added Khushbir Singh Shaad, an Urdu poet in Lucknow: “I think only the faces have changed. Otherwise, the law and order situation is no different for the common man.”

On a reality check, violence against Dalits, her core constituency, and women has shown a consistent increase during the last one year. According to figures collected by the Dynamic Action Group (DAG), an NGO working for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, there have been at least two incidents of crimes against Dalits everyday.

“We know of many cases where FIRs by Dalits are not being registered. There are cases of the high castes preventing the lower castes from taking possession of lands allotted to them by the government and the administration does nothing,” Ram Kumar of DAG told IANS.

“But the Dalits have no other alternative to the BSP with the Congress unable to conjure up for them the confidence of a sure victory,” said political analyst Ramesh Dikshit.

If Dalits had little reason to be happy, crimes against women leave little to debate. For instance, the incidents of rape rose to 1,388 in 2007 from 1,307 in 2006, molestation from 2,091 to 2,366 and of kidnapping from 2,638 to 2,947.

But there is praise for Mayawati still.

“Her important achievement is that there is a perceptible improvement in the roads network,” said Ram Kumar. “I agree, the roads have become good across the state. We have to give in there,” chipped in Hasnain.

The other point in her favour is the Rs.400 billion Ballia-to-Noida Ganga Expressway project, which is a major initiative. Acquisition of land for the project, however, could become a bone of contention with issues of compensation.

Mayawati, for the moment, seems set to emerge as a strong national player come 2009 elections.

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