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Mayawati vows to root out corruption from UP
Prem Panicker in Lucknow | May 11, 2007 18:06 IST
Last Updated: May 11, 2007 19:48 IST
It was more performance than a media interaction -- a diva on the day of her biggest triumph, savoring it with a relish she made no effort to disguise.
She was grand, she was imperial; at around 5.40 pm on Friday, she turned it on for the benefit of a media corps that had maintained patient vigil outside her home and party office for the best part of a searing hot day in Lucknow.
The media had barely settled when she strode out into the courtyard of her home, clad top to toe in pink, and paid obeisance before the larger-than-life statues of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram, that dominate the front of her house.
She showered rose petals and garlands, careful to avoid strewing those petals and garlands on her own statue, to Dr Ambedkar's right. And she opened her address with a bow to the sants, gurus and great men of the Dalit movement, from Narayana Guru all the way to Kanshi Ram, for their contributions to the cause of "social justice and equality".
From then on, it was an exercise in barely veiled triumphalism. She interrupted her own reading of the statement to frown at the roar of fireworks from outside the compound; disturbed a second time, she -- without even glancing over her shoulder -- said Inko mana nahin kiya jaa sakta (can't they be stopped)?
No sooner said, than a dozen officials and police big brass rushed out to contain the general exuberance.
At the outset, Mayawati pointed out that for close to 14 years, no single party has won an absolute majority in Uttar Pradesh. That the BSP has emerged victor by a mile, she said, was a tribute to the people's belief in democracy; it showed that the support for her party transcended considerations of caste, and religion.
She then showered accolades upon her lieutenants. On the right, Lucknow lawyer and one time Advocate General of UP Satish Chandra Mishra. "I gave him the guidelines, I told him what to do, and since then he has worked tirelessly across UP to bring the Brahmins, and other upper castes, into the BSP fold," she said.
Then a nod to the left, to former environment minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui, who she credited with bringing the Muslims into the party fold. "Clearly," she said, "It is evident that Muslims have voted in larger numbers for the BSP than for any other party."
Lieutenants duly thanked, she broadened her gratitude, to the voters of all castes, upper and lower, who she said had backed the BSP as the only party capable of providing good, lasting governance, and promised them five years of democratic government free of corruption, injustice and fear.
If the order of points made is an indicator of importance, then the need to thumb her nose at the media clearly merits high priority in Mayawati's mind just now.
"You media people have been asking me, Behenji, give us some time -- and I thought, why must I disturb you? After all, you are already putting out all sorts of stories about me and my party, without my help. You were putting out assessments about how the parties would fare, and who would form the next government, and I thought, why bother you with my thoughts, why disturb you?"
She was to revert to the media theme a little later, when she pointedly said the results were a cue for the media to rethink its own prejudices, to think, to understand, to do some soul-searching, to consider what the results boded for the political future of the country at large.
"The media also carried ads and stories, negative stories put out by our opponents," she went on. "I told my people that we should not respond to such things, we should ignore the negative campaigns of other parties and concentrate on our own message, and the people of UP would give the final answer -- and now, they have."
In marked contrast to outgoing Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who earlier in the day had laid the blame for his party's defeat squarely at the door of the Election Commission, Mayawati was effusive -- and profuse -- in her praise for that institution.
The Election Commission, she said, had done a wonderful job, guarding the institution of democracy and creating an environment that facilitated free and fair elections. In doing so, she said, while thanking all involved officials, the EC had "enfranchised the poorest of the poor, and restored their faith in the democratic process."
Harking back to the theme of the election results and what the tealeaves said, Mayawati indicated that the politics of the mafia, of "jungle raj", had been soundly defeated. Her party, she said, understood the message the public had sent out, and would for the next five years act as the guardians of the rule of law.
And that naturally cued her in to take note of a story that had, through the afternoon, created a buzz among the media gathered at various points on Lucknow's political map. As I understood it, one of the channels had aired footage from the office of the Samajwadi Party's Urban Development Minister Azam Khan, showing dozens of official files being torn to pieces and being carted away in gunnysacks.
"I called the DGP," Mayawati announced, "as soon as I saw those pictures on TV, and..." At this point, she apparently realised that while she is chief minister in all but name, she was not yet one de facto. So, a hasty revision: "I haven't taken oath yet, I haven't become Chief Minister yet, but I called the DGP and pointed out that the television channels were reporting what seemed to be criminal activity, and I asked him to investigate."
Her party, she said, roundly condemns the incident; she has, she reiterated, asked that the police look into it. "I told the DGP, please take what action you can, and when once I have taken the oath, I will take what action I must."
Ominous words, those, delivered in ominous tones -- and for Mayawati, they served as the perfect exit line. "Everything else, I will tell you after I formally take oath as chief minister," she said, getting up to leave.
No, she wasn't taking any questions just yet. But when one reporter yelled out a question about whether she would punish Mulayam Singh Yadav as she had vowed to during her campaign, Mayawati couldn't resist, "Mare hue aadmi ko mujhe kya maarna hai, she quipped, smiling at the laughter of her assembled lieutenants and the party faithful. "The public has already punished him with their votes, why should I punish him any further?"
End of message? Not exactly -- she paused, then continued, "But haan, if anything illegal has been done, it will be investigated and no matter who the culprit is, he will be punished. Not in a spirit of political vendetta, but to uphold the rule of law and order."
With that, she spun around on her axis and marched back indoors. Scant moments later, a ferocious storm broke out over Lucknow -- a breeze of considerable force, drenching all in swirling storms of dust whipped off the dry sun-baked roads, then a brief, very brief shower.
"Achcha shagun hai," my cab driver tells me as he plunges the car, blind, into the storm. "A shower like this is a oood sign; Behenji paanch saal raaj karegi, aur yahan shaanti hogi.