UP: Sanitized Schizophrenia

So what were the power phobias chasing Mayawati?

Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

Even as the burden of great expectations have already started haunting the new, young 'socialist' chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Akhilesh Yadav, the simmering and bitter realities of the last five years of Mayawati's authoritarian regime is surfacing among political circles in the capital of the state. The opposition has always gone overboard, terming the BSP regime under the iron hand of Mayawati a mini replica of the Emergency of 1975-77. However exaggerated it might seem, a postmortem of the last regime's conduct brings alive too many uncanny coincidences, predictable patterns and grey zones of the 'Dalit ki beti's' (Dalit's daughter) one-dimensional rule with a tiny coterie of loyalists, bureaucrats and top cops.

Clearly, three individuals were running the show in UP during this phase: Mayawati's trusted Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh; close aide Naseemuddin Siddiqui, holding as many as 18 ministerial portfolios; and Satish Mishra, the Brahmin face of BSP, who was decisively sidelined in between, and then seemingly rehabilitated before the assembly polls. These powerful individuals, wielding unaccountable power, remained decisively inaccessible to the common citizens, ministers, MLAs, legislators and party workers, with Mayawati confining herself to a totally sanitized secret zone of absolute, and often, transparently schizophrenic power.

Why she should have completely cut off herself from the political processes on the ground, ordinary people, especially the poor and Dalits, and her loyal BSP cadre, remains an enigma for political observers in the state. This only led to unsubstantiated rumours about her daily rituals and behaviour, eating habits, obsession with 'mobility in only curfew-like situations', her distaste for the minimal of mass contact, fondness for multiple properties and gigantic financial assets (pray, from where did she earn all this?), her unknown fears and phobias, her centralized iron curtain hierarchy with not an iota of inner party democracy, and her compulsive megalomania and love for her own statues with that ubiquitous handbag.

At the best of times, she chose to meet only a few ministers and half-a-dozen senior bureaucrats; sometimes a few party workers crucial to her schemes. She seldom came out of her sprawling residence where she apparently spent most of her time. She visited her secretariat office to attend only cabinet meetings. She also shut the 'janata durbar' in which people from remote parts of the state would come and apprise the chief minister of their problems.

Often, the streets across the stretch her high security convoy would pass, including in rural areas, would be completely sanitized by the police – not even a dog could be seen. This was an obsessive ritual whenever she imperiously decided to attend a public event or discharge her constitutional obligations. Sometimes the streets were meticulously washed and spruced up. No vehicles or public movement would be allowed, nobody would be allowed to walk on pavements, even those in restaurants and shops were instructed to remain indoors. Surprisingly, even cops posted on the way were told to avoid 'gazing' at the convoy of the chief minister.

Ironically, as chief minister, she avoided meetings with political or social delegations, protestors, petitioners, diplomats from foreign countries, journalists, even investors. Most protests were treated brutally, lathi-charged or dispersed with water canons and police assaults. All political parties faced her wrath when they came on the streets. Hundreds of protesting 'Shikshak Mitra' low-paid teachers seeking permanent employment had to jump into the Gomti river with cops chasing them after a nasty lathi-charge. Muslim protestors seeking jobs met the same fate – they were mercilessly beaten up by the UP police.

"Mayawati and her government had so depoliticized the atmosphere that no political activity or discussion seemed possible," said Lucknow-based political analyst Dr Ramesh Dixit. "There was a certain pronounced, pathological, perhaps schizophrenic paranoia and authoritarianism reflected in her public behaviour," a top police officer based in Lucknow told Hardnews.

"Even when she would be visiting a Dalit hamlet, the streets would be thoroughly sanitized, we would work all night, quickly bring logistics (sometimes from as far as Faizabad and Ayodhya) to cordon off the roads, not one person would be allowed in the vicinity when she passed by, not even a dog or cow. Even the people she met would often be just a small group, and the meeting would be as transitory, short and meaningless, since she would return in a hurry. We used to wonder, what's wrong with her? How can anyone in mass politics behave like this?"

Satish Mishra, MP in Rajya Sabha, and 'social engineer' of the Brahmin votes for BSP on which Mayawati rode to power, also turned into an inaccessible power cog in the coterie. He never met anyone; he even avoided senior and familiar journalists. This arrogance and distance from the Brahmins all these five years resulted in total alienation of the upper castes from the BSP.

There was a certain pronounced, pathological, perhaps schizophrenic paranoia and authoritarianism reflected in her public behaviour’

Mishra was sidelined by his 'empress' and confined to render 'legal services' only, though he was suddenly resurrected just before the polls to appease the Brahmin constituency. This 'holistic' opportunism was too brazen to pass unnoticed – the Brahmins were not impressed. Indeed, Mayawati admitted as much after her defeat; she categorically accepted that the upper caste vote was divided between BJP and Congress, while Muslims voted for Samajwadi Party.

However, during her tenure, Mishra reaped the benefits and acquired crucial positions for his extended clan. Several government vehicles with red lights were provided to his family members – much to the disgust of the common citizens of UP.

The entire administration was run by Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh. Since the chief minister was inaccessible, most powers were delegated to Singh, with ministers too reporting to him. Some bureaucrats have now started complaining that the administration under Singh had become an unbearable space with even Singh's staffers misbehaving with them. There have been many individual cases of bureaucrats being humiliated, and a 'virtual reign of terror' being unleashed.

Inner party heart burning post defeat led to massive anger against Singh. He was squarely blamed for mishandling the administration and alienating party workers. Inside reports say that there was a silent revolt when Mayawati decided to make Singh a Rajya Sabha MP along with herself; hence, she decided to dump him.

The Mayawati regime was stalked by murders, rapes, extortions and cases of corruption. The National Rural Health scam led to the murder of two CMOs and one deputy CMO, with bungling to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore, allegedly with the connivance of two BSP ministers and senior bureaucrats. Even Mayawati's huge assets are under scrutiny with a disproportionate assets case dangling on her.

The streets across the stretch her high security convoy would pass, were completely sanitized – not even a dog could be seen 

She took belated but selective action against 22 ministers following reports by the Lokayukta, Justice NK Mehrotra, on serious charges of corruption. This was also seen as a dubious ploy to deny tickets to certain MLAs, even while she played blind to the sea of corruption around her all through the five years. Her detractors ask: "So why did she refuse to act against her close confidante Naseemuddin Siddiqui on brazen charges of corruption despite the Lokayukta's recommendation?"

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2012