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The Rediff Special/ Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
A year on, Mayawati bulldozes opponents
May 13, 2008
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati completes one year as Uttar Pradesh chief minister on Tuesday. She was sworn in as chief minister for the fourth time on May 13 last year.
The 52-year-old Dalit leader created history by rising to occupy the highest political office of India's most populous state on her own strength. Raised and nurtured by her political mentor and BSP founder -- the late Kanshi Ram, she has created another history of sorts over these 12 months -- of demolitions and constructions in the state caopital Lucknow.
These demolitions and constructions are part of the oft repeated bid to knock of her political rivals and forge new socio-political relationships for the party that took off purely as a Dalit outfit.
With her ambitions spiralling to acquire the country's prime ministerial chair, she appears to be a woman in a hurry.
Besides painting the Lucknow skyline blue in the BSP hue with umpteen hoardings and welcome arches announcing her 'achievements', she organised a 'sarkari' show at a 3,000-capacity air-conditioned hall where she blew her trumpet about having done in one year what her predecessor governments has failed in the 57 years they ruled the state.
Yet what has kept her in the spotlight over the past 12 month was her fad for pulling down buildings and erecting memorials after memorials.
What was strange that her demolition drive included several structures she had raised during her three previous stints.
Responding to the appeals of sportspersons who approached him on the midnight of July 10�11, Justice Pradeep Kant held a special hearing at his residence at around 2 am and not only did he restrain the administration from proceeding with its plans but also severely castigated the Mayawati administration.
The court's intervention was historic in as much as a public interest litigation was heard at the dead of the night for the first time in Indian judicial history.
Mayawati's objective in getting the sports complex pulled down was to merge the 50-acre complex with the adjoining 108-acre Ambedkar Park, which she wished to expand into a giant-sized Ambedkar memorial. The park was raised with a Rs 150-crore grant doled out by Maywati during her second stint as chief minister. And this time, a whopping sum of Rs 336 crore was earmarked for the expansion exercise.
Even her offer to compensate razing the complex by building an international class sports complex on the outskirts of Lucknow did not help to soften the high court. But Mayawati was not among those who would give up easily.
She appealed against the high court ruling in the Supreme Court. And barely 24 hours before completing her first year in office, she had the last laugh with the Supreme Court vacating the high court's stay. Her bulldozers moved into action immediately, reducing the complex to a rubble on May 11.
It was alleged that the original petitioner was intimidated to withdraw the case following which it was discharged by the apex court, allowing Mayawati to go ahead with her demolition drive.
Mayawati's stars truly seemed to be in her favour where court battles are concerned. And each of these litigations involved demolitions -- be it the multiple buildings incorporated in and around the Ambedkar Park or the sprawling government bungalows allotted in the name of Mayawati, her party or other allied trusts and bodies. And so what if dynamite had to be used where the bulldozers would not work?
At least three bungalows -- including one allotted to her as ex-chief minister -- besides a sprawling estate housing the office of state cane commissioner -- were razed in Lucknow's posh Mall Avenue alone. While two of the bungalows -- with nearly 100,000 square feet of land -- were converted into the new BSP state headquarters, the other two with just about the same space have made way for building a guesthouse named after her mentor -- Kanshi Ram Ratri Vishram Sthal.
Another bungalow reconstructed as the BSP state headquarters during her third stint in the same neighbourhood was bulldozed. According to insiders, the plot measuring about 45,000 squre feet would be utilised to build a photo-gallery named after Kanshi Ram.
In the run up to her completing a year in office, newspapers in Uttar Pradesh were overflowing with pages and pages of advertisements announcing her 'new and novel schemes' -- which included a sprawling Kanshi Ram Memorial to be built at a cost of about Rs 750 crore on a 25-acre plot chopped from the Lucknow district jail land and earlier christened as 'Ambedkar Maidan'.
A substitute for the maidan -- laid out for political rallies and public fairs -- has been created at least 15 kilometres from the heart of town and named after Ramabai Ambedkar, the wife of the architect of the Constitution.
If she takes the credit for bringing India's infrastructure giant Jaypee Industries to undertake the construction of the country's longest and unique 1,000-km expressway between Varanasi and New Delhi, she was also responsible for shutting the doors to Mukesh Ambani's Rs 5,000-crore Reliance [Get Quote] Fresh initiative in the state.
She might have been credited with cracking down on many a criminal, but there are also examples of her patronising some of the dreaded mafia dons in different parts of the state. Some have even managed to get themselves inducted into the ruling party.
Politically too, she is riding high. Of the by elections to three Lok Sabha and five state assembly seats held over the past 12 months, all but one went to BSP. Political observers see it as a demonstration of continued success of her 'social engineering' -- aimed at evolving a new alignment between the once diverse Dalits and the upper caste Hindus. And that poses a serious challenge to her political rivals -- who are desperately looking for ways and means to tackle the seemingly unstoppable Mayawati.
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