Wednesday, February 1, 2012

[ZESTCaste] India’s low-caste queen launches re-election bid

India's low-caste queen launches re-election bid

1 February 2012
SITAPUR, India — India's "Dalit Queen," a low-caste firebrand in power
in the country's most populous state since 2007, launched her
re-election bid Wednesday promising to continue working for the

Crowds of supporters from India's Dalits, formerly "untouchables" or
the lowest social class, cheered and waved as she swooped down in a
helicopter before appearing on stage clutching her trademark leather

Mayawati, who uses one name, rules deeply impoverished Uttar Pradesh
where she has helped elevate the status of the low-castes, but is also
accused of letting the state slide further into corruption and

She has also spent more than a billion dollars building giant statues
of herself and her party symbol of an elephant, as well as memorials
to past low-caste icons, in sprawling parks in the state capital

"It is the first time for this state that our government took up the
cause of the Dalits and the deprived, as well as Muslims who were
always neglected by successive regimes," she said in an hour-long

Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls next Wednesday to elect a new
state assembly, has a population of 200 million — about the size of
Brazil's — and some of the most entrenched poverty in the world.

It is influential in national politics as a power base — Mayawati once
said she hoped to rule the nation — and is the home constituency of
India's dynastic Gandhi family, which has dominated post-independence

After taking to a stage that was adorned with her image, the
56-year-old, dressed smartly in beige, sat alone on a raised armchair
on the front of the platform. Her ministers and local candidates stood
discreetly at the back.

The crowd numbering at least 50,000, many of them families of
low-caste farm labourers, packed into every available space in an open
field in the town of Sitapur, about a two-hour drive northwest from

Many said the election of Mayawati as chief minister in 2007 had
helped improve their lives as they were less often victims of
persecution and harassment from higher castes.

Some described being forced to carry cow dung, or having their new
clothes ripped by their resentful upper-class peers. Others said they
were previously prevented from drinking from the same wells as higher
castes or eating near them.

Few seemed bothered by the allegations of corruption that swirl around
Mayawati, or the criticism of her extravagant spending on her statue

In a speech focused largely on attacking her opponents, she promised
24-hour electricity to every home in her next term and said economic
growth in Uttar Pradesh had increased during her reign.


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