July 10, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Mayawati

'We will make it to the Centre one day'

For Mayawati, the 46-year-old vice-president of the Bahujan Samaj Party and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh -- the only dalit woman to become chief minister of any Indian state -- this is just the beginning of a long march. "I have to fulfil Babasaheb Ambedkar's dream of eventually riding on to the power pedestal at the Centre. It may take some time, but a time will come when the bahujan samaj will rule India," she told Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow.

The second-in-command of her party, Mayawati heads a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, formed after a hung verdict in the February assembly election prompted the two parties to join hands despite two bitter experiences in the past. And contrary to common perception, she is confident of playing a full innings this time.

Seated on a luxuriously draped sofa in the recently renovated chief minister's bungalow, where no one is allowed with shoes on, the 'torch-bearer' of a classless society is the only one wearing footwear. Excerpts from the interview:

What is your ultimate goal?

My aim is to have a bahujan samaj government at the Centre, which was also the dream of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.

But how do you hope to reach there when your party only has its government in one state, that too with the support of a party like the BJP, which is your ideological opposite?

Well, it may take some time, but I am sure we will make it one day. We walked on to the political turf of Uttar Pradesh for the first time in 1983 and it took us 12 years to ride to power in 1995. This is our third stint in power and each time our party's strength has grown. Today we have 100 MLAs in the 403-member UP assembly.

Considering that your coalition partner has ditched you twice in the past, how long do you think you will last this time?

We are getting along very well and will complete a full term. We have the best of relations between the two parties; it is only the media that has been projecting a false image about us.

Do you think coalition politics has proved beneficial to your party?

Definitely! And we will continue to make the most of it, because the politics of coalition is here to stay. We have already agreed to contest the next Lok Sabha election in collaboration with the BJP in UP.

Then what kept you from joining the National Democratic Alliance?

Well, for the time being we have decided to extend our support to the NDA from outside.

In any case, your party is limited only to UP.

That is not true. We have already established a foothold in several other states, including Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and even Jammu & Kashmir. Besides, we have gone as far as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the south.

What is your basis for imagining that you will eventually be a major presence at the national level?

Well, our agenda is straight and simple -- to ensure the upliftment of the weak and downtrodden in society and that class can see that we alone are committed to and capable of building a new order for them by fighting against manuvaad [upper-caste hegemony].

But isn't your tirade against manuvaad contradictory to this newly introduced practice of not allowing anybody with footwear inside your official residence, specially since you have your chappals on?

You see, I have started this only for reasons of hygiene. When you walk into anybody's house with footwear, you tend to bring in germs and bacteria. As far as my chappals are concerned, these remain well within the four walls of this house, so they are absolutely clean.

Why don't you have similar chappals kept here as well, so that one can have something to put on in place of his own footwear when he steps in here?

You can bring your personal chappals in your vehicle and wear them on entering this place.

How come you have adopted this practice from your bete noir Mulayam Singh Yadav [the Samajwadi Party chief] who introduced this in his private residence as well as party office?

I never knew that Mulayam was also observing this.

If you are so concerned about the uplift of the downtrodden, why did you reverse the social justice policy of [former chief minister] Rajnath Singh, when it was aimed at ensuring the benefits of reservation to the lowest among the dalits and the other backward classes?

I have not reversed Rajnath Singh's policy. It was stayed by the country's apex court. Only to ensure that the stay did not come in the way of the current recruitment process for thousands of vacancies in the job quota, I decided to revert to the usual reservation policy pursued over the preceding 50 years.

Of late you have been talking about bringing the upper castes and minorities into your party's agenda.

Our agenda is not limited to just the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. We have included the upper castes too in our ambit and demonstrated it by awarding them tickets in the last election.

Yet, you continue to give precedence to the scheduled castes by awarding them all the prized posts.

You see, in a family everyone is not alike, someone may be a weakling. Now, as head of the family, it is natural for you to focus greater attention on the weaker member so that he can be brought at par with the others, isn't it? But that does not mean I am sidelining the others. Don't you see so many upper-caste officers occupying key positions in my government?

But the common complaint is that most of the postings are done on other considerations, the rampant play of money being one.

That was happening in previous regimes. In fact, I have brought an end to that malpractice. Mind you, if I were taking money for transfers, I would not have been able to even look the officials in the eye, not to speak of dealing with them with an iron hand, which I have been doing.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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