Indian political observers may accuse me of taking this a tad too far, but on some levels I do believe that this moment may the closest we get to, in seeing the Obama effect in India.
You can say what you like about Indian polity, call it dynastic, corrupt, rigged etc, but the truth is that it’s clung onto its democratic traditions to emerge as a shining beacon in a region of failed democracies.
Sure, India is dwarfed by China in terms of international and strategic importance, but the fact that a lady like Mayawati can emerge from nowhere and become a contender for the highest office in a country is praiseworthy and worthy of celebration.
The US took over 200 years for an Obama to emerge; in India, if Mayawati ends up as PM, we’ll have seen the Obama phenomenon – someone from the oppressed class / caste in office – within 62 years of independence!
The comparison ends there.
So, what do we know about Mayawati?
1. She was born in Delhi to parents from the Dalit caste (previously referred to as untouchables) and went on to pursue a career as a teacher.
2. Her potential was spotted by the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and from then onwards, she’s never looked back.
3. The BSP, under her direction, have consistently increased their share of votes across India as she’s tried to broaden their base by inducting candidates from other castes and backgrounds.
4. She’s the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state – Uttar Pradesh (UP) and commands a majority, where most other states are dependent on coalitions with other parties. As a result of her dominance in UP (which returns the largest number of MPs to Delhi), she can be sure of winning the lions share of seats there. Commentators predict that if she gets upward of 40 seats, then its for her to decide what happens in Delhi.
5. In 1995, at the tender age of 39, she become one of India’s youngest Chief Ministers and whilst her tenure was short lived, she came to the fore and registered herself as a future contender, which she’s lived up to becoming.
6. As is common in India, she’s ousted hundreds of police officers, civil servants and the like due to their political allegiances lying with her sworn enemy, the previous Chief Minister – Mulayam Singh Yadav from the Samajwadi Party.
7. In a similar vein, she’s the subject of several court cases related to corruption and general goon behaviour.
8. To say she’s a megalomaniac is putting things lightly; her birthday celebrations are huge media events that her foot-soldiers use to ingratiate themselves. Recently, an engineer was killed after he reportedly refused to pay money demanded by one of her tribe for her birthday celebration fund.
9. Its also claimed that in 2007 – 08, she paid more income tax that India’s richest businessman – Mukesh Ambani! Who say’s politics doesn’t pay?
10. In terms of opportunism, all she’s concerned with is obtaining office. She’s thrown her lot with the BJP and the Congress when its suited her, and I suspect we’ll see more of the same this time around.
Apparently, with a focus on bursting onto the national scene, she’s been taking advice on her image, having English tuition, and socialising with Delhi types on a more regular basis!
As I said, I make the assertion that this is India’s Obama moment, but I’m not sure she’s India’s Obama.