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Mayawati's plan to storm Amethi comes a cropper
December 12, 2002 02:25 IST
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's plan to woo the dalits of Amethi came unstuck after the crowds took offence to her vitriolic attack on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka Vadra.
Vadra's recent visit to Amethi prompted Mayawati to organise a rally in Amethi on Wednesday. What had specially irked her was Vadra's initiative in ensuring the registration of a dalit's complaint at a local police station against the demolition of his house by an upper-caste politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mayawati's coalition partner. The police had earlier refused to lodge his complaint.
Feeling threatened, Mayawati decided to take on the Gandhis in their political bastion, but the move ended in a damp squib. People could be seen leaving in a huff as she charged Vadra with conspiring against her. "Priyanka Gandhi came to camp here last month only as part of a Congress ploy to enact a drama to defame me," she said, as she recapitulated how Vadra went to a local police station to ensure the registration of Shambhu Nath's complaint.
"Inquiries have revealed that the dalit himself was at fault and had encroached upon the Thakur's land, but Priyanka Gandhi gave the episode a different colour to project herself and her party as a champion of the dalit cause," Mayawati said.
Imploring the dalits to wholeheartedly support the Bahujan Samaj Party, she said, "Sonia Gandhi would have never won
from Amethi if you had not voted for her."
She continued, "I am aware that she managed your support by misleading you; and that is the reason I am here today, to warn you against her designs. Watch out against such designs and don't get misguided by her and the Congress in times to come."
But the crowds refused to respond even to the sops she offered in the form of improvement of the otherwise neglected roads and other basic amenities in the region. Her decision to make Amethi a district, which would normally have been a big morale-booster, also failed to enthuse them and they hardly responded to the repeated cries of 'zindabad' (long live) from the dais.
What seemed to irk most people was Mayawati's proposal to rename Amethi after Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the late nineteenth century king of Kolhapur in Maharashtra who has become a popular BSP icon. Shahu is believed to have been the first in India to introduce job reservations for dalits and other backward communities.
But even Mayawati's partymen looked unimpressed. "Who knows Shahuji Maharaj here? Who is interested in knowing what he was; what was wrong if she had let Amethi remain Amethi?" was the instant reaction.
"As it is, she has alienated the crowds by unnecessarily speaking out against Sonia and Priyanka, who are adored by everyone here. Now that she proposes to rename Amethi, that too after someone who is a foreigner for us, she can forget about winning over the masses here," said Tej Pratap Dwivedi.
Dwivedi, incidentally, contested the last assembly election in Uttar Pradesh from Amethi as a BSP nominee. "Other than Amethi, the only name that could have been acceptable to the people was Rajiv Gandhi Nagar," he said.
Rakesh Kumar, a BSP worker who had come to the rally from Sangrampur village, was equally critical of Mayawati. "She has annoyed the people by taking on Priyanka for no rhyme or reason; no one is willing to buy her theory that Priyanka had an ulterior motive in supporting the harassed dalit in Punnpur village," he remarked.
Ravi Kant, a shopkeeper from Amethi town, said, "If Mayawati was truly concerned about Shambhu Nath, she should have visited Punnpur. Had it not been for Priyanka, Mayawati would not even be addressing this rally here today."
Seventy-year-old Kailashi, who had come from a neighbouring village, candidly spelt out her choice between Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi. "Rajiv Gandhi had a special place for us in his heart; and we have a special place for Sonia Gandhi, who cannot be paralleled by Mayawati in any circumstances," she said.
Mayawati's urge to make a dent in the Gandhi bastion was perhaps prompted by the fact that the Amethi parliamentary constituency has 31 per cent dalits. What she did not realise is that despite her party's agressive pro-dalit
stance, the BSP nominee polled only 5 per cent of the votes in the last general election, as against Sonia Gandhi's 67. In the 14 parliamentary elections since 1952, the Congress has lost Amethi only twice.