Miss M 55

With a series of ghastly rapes and crimes stalking UP, it's not all cake and ice-cream for the birthday girl
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

She celebrates in style. With a large dose of abject insensitivity. And cold-blooded disregard for public opinion. Even while rape cases and heart-rending stories of injustices have rocked UP, Dalit Chief Minister Mayawati celebrated her 55th birthday on January 15 in typical grandiose display of wealth, pomp and splendour, befitting a crass, feudal, maharani' like during the decadent days of monarchy.

Observers say that never before has any chief minister celebrated his/her birthday in the state as "Miss Megalomaniac" did this time. In the contemporary scenario of rapes, politico-crime nexus, sharp price rise, cold wave deaths and widespread poverty in UP, she seemed to have outdone her own grand dos of obscene opulence on her birthdays in the past.

Lucknow, state capital, historically tuned in with aesthetic and cultural refinement, was turned into garish blue, the BSP's party colour, with almost all intersections, parks and memorials named after Dalit icons, glittering with blue lights, festoons, billboards, posters and miscellaneous paraphernalia. Hoardings, banners, flags with pictures of behenji, had been plastered all over. 

State Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi said that at a time when over 200 persons had died during this bitterly cold winter due to lack of shelter, warm clothes and basic nourishment, the BSP government spent several hundred crores on the celebrations. She said the manner in which the birthday was being showcased while minor girls were being raped, shows sharp deterioration in the law and order situation, while criminals are cocking a snook at the government. Mayawati herself seems to be reacting much too late and reluctantly to brazen cases of atrocities.

Ironically, Joshi pointed out that various multi-crore projects announced on her birthday are basically projects earmarked under central funds. "So how come she is claiming moral authority on these projects," asked Congress leaders.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) criticised the filthy waste of public money as "shameful and a blot on democracy". This was "virtual loot".  The BJP said that in the midst of inflation, murder, dacoities, rapes, and mass unemployment, to decorate the city like "a newly wed bride" is a mockery of the relentless problems being faced by ordinary folk.

But Mayawati was untouched. Her ritualistic response was that all allegations are anti-Dalit because every year her birthday was celebrated as 'Jan Kalyan Diwas' (People's Welfare Day). She announced 600 welfare schemes worth Rs 4,000 crore and camps were held in all districts where people were informed about the schemes. She raised the Rs 100 per month financial aid to Rs 400 per month for 32 lakh poor families under the Mukhyamantri Mahamaya Garib Arthick Madad Yojana. She announced the Janhit Guarantee Act, aimed at making government officials accountable to the people, ensuring timely delivery of services, especially those related to the poor and Dalits.

However, despite the pomp and show, the birthday was marred by the shadow of rape and murder of a minor girl, Divya, in Kanpur, and the rape of a backward caste girl, Sheelu, in Banda. The crimes only added to the relentless crime-wave stalking the state, especially engineered by Mayawati's party leaders.

The BSP MLA from Banda, Purushottam Dwivedi, has been charged with the alleged rape of Sheelu. All leads point to the crime by Dwivedi and his associates on December 12, 2010. This is also the girl's testimony; she said she was under pressure to change her statement.

Shockingly, it took Mayawati's government 21 days to order the arrest of the accused BSP MLA while the little girl spent 23 days in prison on bogus charges of theft cooked up by the MLA with help from the local police. Only after the Crime Branch-Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) report categorically stated that the girl was innocent and the MLA was involved in the rape, after sustained pressure from the National Commission for Women, human rights and civil society groups, opposition leaders, media, and court intervention, did the Mayawati government reluctantly get the MLA arrested. Critics consider this too as a face-saving tactic, an eyewash.

Similarly, on the eve of her birthday, Mayawati, on the basis of a CB-CID report, ordered officials to take action against police officials in Kanpur who were protecting the man who was involved in the rape and murder of young Divya. The fact is, Mayawati seems to be acting against her party MPs, MLAs and ministers who are involved in criminal actions, sex scandals and corruption cases, but in most cases it is too little, too late.

Student Divya was raped by the son of a school manager on September 27 last year. It was due to connivance of the school principal that no medical treatment could be given to the helpless victim -- who eventually died. Police officials reportedly helped the culprits. So much so, when the local media of Kanpur exposed the police, then even sections of the media were threatened.
The involvement of BSP leaders and legislators in criminal activities and corruption is likely to affect the party's chances in the 2012 assembly elections.

It has been alleged that more than a dozen BSP leaders, including legislators and ministers, have been accused in various criminal activities, including sex-related crimes. In her obsessive quest for 'sarvjan' electoral alliances to stick to power, and compromises with all kinds of dubious characters, Mayawati's slogan of ending 'goonda raj' seems to have hit the gutter.

Earlier, Anand Sen, a minister, was sacked and arrested. Sen, BSP MLA from Milkipur in Faizabad district, was involved in the continued exploitation of a college girl. When the girl threatened to expose him, he got her kidnapped and she was murdered. 

Bhagwan Sharma, alias Guddu Pandit, notorious gangster and BSP MLA from Dibai in Bulandshahar, was arrested, charged with the rape of a college girl. Now the same man is in jail under the Goonda Act for violence during the panchayat polls. The BSP MLA from Bilsi, Yogendra Sagar, was involved in the kidnapping and rape of a school girl. Initially, the local police refused to take any action; only after a court directive was an FIR lodged against the MLA.

In 2009, Ram Manohar Garg, chairman of UP Fisheries Development Corporation, was sacked when he was accused of raping a woman and making a sleazy video to blackmail her. BSP MLA Chandrabhadra Singh alias Sonu Singh of Isauli was accused of murdering revenue inspector Ram Kumar Yadav, who was the polling officer during panchayat polls in Sultanpur in October 2010. A murder case was registered against the BSP MLA and his brother Yashbhadra alias Monu Singh.

She might turn totally narcissistic, but gory memories from the past will keep Mayawati awake. In January 2008, BSP MLA Shekhar Tewari shocked the nation when he murdered PWD engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta in Auraiyya after he refused to give money for the birthday celebrations of Mayawati. Shockingly, the criminal nexus of police and BSP MLA was exposed when there were allegations that Gupta underwent severe police torture.

Cabinet minister Ashok Dohre was recently sacked on charges of protecting criminals in his home district Auraiyya. BSP leader Vikram Bahadur, wanted in connection with a double murder during the panchayat polls, was arrested in Kaptanganj area. He was one of the accused in the killings of Mahendra Yadav and Samanand Yadav in Atraulia block on December 22 last year. Former minister and SP leader Balram Yadav just about escaped.

Mayawati says that she sacked 500 BSP workers for their involvement in criminal activities. During her interactions with workers, she orders them to keep away from the mafia and other criminals. But analysts feel that the damage has been done. She came to power with the promise of undoing the 'criminal goonda raj' which peaked during the Mulayam Singh Yadav regime. Now, history seems to have turned a full and vicious circle. Indeed, it's not all cake and ice-cream for the Dalit birthday girl.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2011