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 World Affairs

Untouchable Mayawathi next Indian Premier?

The ruling Congress Party won the no confidence vote moved in the Lower House of the Indian Parliament by a 'better than expected margin' sending the stock market index - the Sensex - soaring by 100 points and bringing dancing Congress Party supporters on to the streets but the future of the party does not appear to be that rosy with elections due in the first half of next year.

The cause for celebration was that they avoided a defeat which would have resulted in elections being held soon and the abandonment of the Indo-American Nuclear deal for which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh staked his future.

The parliamentary victory was marred by charges of corruption -  buying up of MPs for cash - with three BJP members displaying wads of notes, said to be one crore of rupees, given to them as an advance for voting for the resolution. Altogether Rs.9 crore were on offer and they charged and named highly placed Congress Party officials as the wheeler dealers.

The Speaker promised some kind of investigation but whether it would have any bearing in modern Indian politics where most politicians are tainted with corruption is in doubt. Even former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was found guilty of corruption.

Corruption is universal

Indeed corruption in politics in South Asia, and today in most countries, is not a rare phenomenon even though the Europeans and Americans consider themselves Simon Pure and most of those in Third World countries as corrupt. Today, in Israel where politics take very high, religious moral ground Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is facing serious allegations of corruption.

In Britain former Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing inquiries on recommendations of Royal Honours for donations to his party funds and reading of journals such as the Private Eye convey the impression that corruption has become endemic in Britain.

In Russia, Italy and many other European nations, corruption is widespread. In the United States, in recent times, no major politician or official has been caught with the hand in the till but they along with even Archbishops have been victims of their sexual proclivities.

Principled

Manmohan Singh, a former vice president of the World Bank can be held in high esteem because he stood by his firm belief that the US-Indian nuclear deal was in the interests of India and risked his career and the future of his government even after the left parties propping  up his government withdrew support.

His leader, Sonia Gandhi, too should share the credit for backing him in the face of tremendous opposition. Whether Singh was right or wrong in backing the deal, what has to be appreciated is that kind of principled politics has not been seen in this part of the world for quite sometime.

However both Singh and Gandhi are not without blemishes because they stand accused of accommodating 'unsavoury  politicians' as ministers in their 2004 cabinet to cobble up a coalition. This is of course a common phenomenon in Sri Lankan politics.

Third Force?

The defeat of the opposition in the no confidence motion resulted in the immediate formation of a 10 party alliance to fight the Congress on the issues of corruption, the nuclear deal and agrarian unrest among other issues. It is still not certain whether a coalition of parties would emerge and the leaders have said the formation of such a coalition to oppose the Congress would have to await developments.

The alliance comprises of four leftist parties - the Bahujana Samaj Party (BSP) of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawathi, and five regional parties. This, if it works out to be a coalition, would be a third force as an alternative to the two main parties - Congress and the  BJP.

The nucleus of this potential third force is Mayawathi who in three years has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in Indian politics. She is a Dalit - an 'untouchable' whose community members are still not permitted entry into most upper class and upper caste Indian homes and not even to Hindu temples.

But she has established herself as the leader of 160 million Dalits spread out in many states which gives her tremendous political clout. The 54-year- old plump woman is the daughter of a government clerk who had grown up in the slums of Delhi. Since the 2004 general election when Mayawathi's party captured the most number of seats in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the most populous state in India, her fortunes have soared. Last year her party won 206 seats of the 403 seat assembly and her party holds 60 seats outside UP.

Master in social engineering

She has according to some commentators performed a 'master stroke in social engineering' bringing into her party Muslims and upper caste Brahmin members. In the UP assembly she has 29 Muslim members and 52 upper caste members. She has brought the poorest of poor with rich Indians - considered a formidable feat in Indian politics.

Mayawathi is a politician feared by both Congress and BJP but now backed by the formidable Communist parties. Rahul Gandhi, during the last state assembly elections, attempted to challenge her authority in UP but could not prevail. She has ridiculed recent visits by young Gandhi to the homes of Dalits. Gandhi, she alleges, goes through a process of purification, washing himself with special soaps after such visits.

Even though she does not have an absolute majority in the UP assembly, Mayawathi, a clever tactician, has gained from the proclivity of rival parties to lock horns with one another enabling her to take control. If Mayawathi leads a third force and wins around 100 seats, this will be her strategy in becoming prime minister of India, some analysts have said.

She is indeed a rare phenomenon in Indian politics. The unorthodox  politician has a penchant for baiting Mahatma Gandhi - the revered Father of the Nation. She has gaudy birthday parties, expensive jewellery and statues of herself sculpted. She has amassed wealth she cannot account for, it is alleged. Yet she has the charisma, mass-based support and the remarkable and rare ability to bring disparate communities together into her fold - Dalits, Brahmins and  Muslims.

Mayawathi is considered a front runner for Indian premiership at the next elections by political pundits in the land of pundits.


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