The verdict that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati (aka Behenji) won in 2007 was not just an indictment of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rule or the anti-incumbency factor, it was also a vote against the lawlessness and widespread thuggery prevalent in the state. Mulayam’s government was not only anti-Dalit, it also had an anti-Brahmin tone. His love for Kalyan Singh antagonised the minorities. It was against this background that Behenji’s call for a “Sarvajan Samaj” and slogans like “Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai” rallied the downtrodden of all castes with her. The “Sarvajan” formula, and the anger against Mulayam, gave Behenji a clear majority.

Behenji is known as a strong and able administrator. In 2007, too, when she took over, she announced that the lawlessness would have to stop, and that the rule of law would prevail. In one of her early moves, she stopped the practice of politicians travelling with a posse of gunmen in tow. She declared that any politician seen with more than three gunmen in a public place would face action.

When BSP MP Ramakant Yadav, from Azamgarh, got the house of a poor Muslim bulldozed so that he could capture his land, Mayawati called him to her residence on the pretext of a meeting and got the MP arrested. Steps like these were aimed at sending a message that no one—whether from the ruling party or the opposition—was above the law. She even dismissed her Food and Civil Supplies minister Anand Sen when he was named an accused in a case of abduction of a woman. Till now, she has expelled 26 leaders, including ministers, from the party.

She cancelled the appointment of 17,868 policemen processed under the previous government, a recruitment that was characterised by large-scale corruption. Twenty-five IPS officers were suspended over this affair.

Behenji’s unprecedented majority in 2007 increased her political ambitions manifold and kindled a craving for the prime minister’s chair. While her newfound political ambitions did result in her coming across as a strong leader who took steps to improve the law and order situation, it also led her to tinker with the SC/ST Act [Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act]. The SC/ST Act is a Central law and the state government can’t change its provisions.

However, as soon as she took over in 2007, Behenji passed a government order which sought to alter a key enabling provision of the law. According to the UP government’s order, in case of atrocities against Dalits being reported, the police should not register an FIR straight away as is the stipulation under the law, but first make enquires about the complaint, and only proceed when there is a prima facie case made out. This government directive is against the very spirit of the SC/ST Act.

This resulted in a spurt of atrocities against Dalits in the state. The consequence for Dalits was that they were in police stations across the state to compromise rather than complain, that somehow cases of Dalit atrocities would anger the “sarvajan samaj” and set back Behenji’s quest for the prime minister’s office. “Compromise and help Behenji become the PM in 2009”, was the unequivocal message.

In the 2009 parliamentary elections, Behenji set her party a target of 60 seats out of the 80 in Uttar Pradesh. In addition, at the bidding of her “special political advisors” she sacrificed her goal of enforcing the rule of law in UP. Instead she handed out poll tickets to 24 mafia bosses and criminal elements. Included in this distinguished company were Mukhtar Ansari, Afzaar Ansari, Dhananjay Singh, D P Yadav and Anna Bhaiya. Twenty-one of the tainted 24 lost the elections, and a shocked Behenji had to be content with just 20 seats. The Dalits were so indifferent, that in spite of repeated appeals by her they refused to come out and vote. Her prime ministerial dream receded into the background.
Behenji has always been aggressive as an administrator and the setback of 2009 parliamentary polls didn’t dampen her ardour. When the veteran farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait abused Mayawati in the choicest of terms at a public meeting—where, incidentally, Ajit Singh was also present—she ordered the arrest of Tikait. He retreated hastily to his fortress of Sisauli, his village. But the government shut down the village. Water and electricity connections were cut. In the end a defeated Tikait emerged, apologised and was arrested.

It’s been a feature of Behenji’s reign that sycophant-bureaucrats surround her in no time at all, and that she places enormous trust in this horde. This distorts the power balance of the government and the party. It’s taken from the hands of leaders and party workers and handed over to the bureaucrats. Every leader and party worker is asked to be deferential towards these babus.

The reason behind this directive is simple. It represents an attempt by the perennially suspicious Behenji to ensure that no other leader of note emerges in the party—a possibility that is always present in her mind. By doing so she is cutting out the chances of organic growth, but Behenji believes that she has a direct connection with the people, and when required she will speak directly with them.

Another strong voice in the party, she believes, will weaken this bond with the people. It is because of this that she didn’t hesitate even for a second to expel an important minister like Babu Singh Kushawa. It speaks eloquently for Mayawati’s clout that no other minister or leader came out in support of Kushawa. He moved from insider one day to stranger the next day in one easy step.

In her present term, Behenji initiated 484 development projects. The two most ambitious ones—the Ganga Expressway and the Yamuna Expressway—met with strong protests with the farmers. She also started the Kanshi Ram Urban Poor Housing Scheme for below-poverty-line (BPL) city dwellers, a scheme that has benefited poor people across castes. She also opened the Kanshi Ram Urdu, Arabic-Farsi University for the minorities. She started work on power projects to bridge the gap of 600 MW between demand and supply in UP.

Then there is the Savitri Phulebai scheme under which girl students of class XI get a bicycle and Rs 10,000. Upon promotion to class XII, the students are entitled to `15,000 as an incentive to continue their education. The government has also opened more than 550 new schools for girls in the state.

There have been serious setbacks, too. A Supreme Court order says, “Preference shall be given to Dalits, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the appointments of cooks and helpers” in the midday meal scheme.
However, after Behenji took over in 2007, there was a spate of protests in the state because Dalit women were cooking food under the midday meal scheme.

For a while there was hope that a strong and determined leader, moreover a Dalit, like Mayawati would stand fast and implement the Supreme Court order, and protect livelihoods of thousands of Dalit women. Contrary to expectations, however, Behenji issued a government order, which overturned the policy of giving preference to women form the Scheduled Castes. This has left a big group feel cheated.

The pattern of corruption in this government is also different from Mulayam Singh’s. In that regime it was decentralised and prevailed at all levels. Under Behenji it’s been confined mostly to top bureaucrats and ministers, as the National Rural Health Mission scam and the CBI investigation show. Or take another equally instructive case, such as the MGNREGA, a law which provides for 100 days of employment in a year for the unemployed.

The babus in Uttar Pradesh managed to give 150 days of employment to one individual in just one month! This is just one example of the scale of loot in the schemes run for social welfare. As for the money involved, nobody really knows.

In the name of “Sarvajan Samaj” Brahmins, part of the Bahujan Samaj Party—upper and lower bureaucracy, and politicians—have got the licence to carry away anything that isn’t actually nailed down or earmarked for someone else.

This “unity” under “Sarvajan Samaj” is about sharing selectively the spoils of power. That’s why it’s been allowed to run and not because it has the potential to unite different sections of society.

Behenji has also been under the hostile scrutiny of all leaders in the country for her construction of mega parks. She has been accused by virtually everyone of diverting money that could be used for the poor to build parks and giant elephant statues. This criticism has never fazed her, though.

The construction of these parks should be seen in their historical context. After the Maurya dynasty, there was the reign of the upper class elites, which completely destroyed the remnants of “Shudra Shashan”, and wiped out the history of the underclass.

The construction of these parks and massive memorials is activated by a desire on Behenji’s part to restore the destroyed historical markers of the Dalits—something that the elite cannot stomach.

This is thus part of the battle to re-establish Dalit history. The parks and memorials serve to inspire those who have been depressed for centuries. They give birth to self-respect and remind people of their glorious history which has all but been wiped out over the ages. Mayawati will be remembered for this work, and the statues and memorials will serve to inspire Dalits.

To sum up, the last five years have been full of turmoil, where Behenji has often appeared to be at odds with herself. She had her task cut out: to manage both the emotional and economic needs of the Dalits. The balance of power and clout of the upper castes often forced her hand, made her take decisions which were not agreeable to her. If her supporters understand this compulsion she won’t have much cause for to worry.