Monday, January 9, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Scion of Gandhis takes on the Dalit Queen in battle for India's biggest state

Scion of Gandhis takes on the Dalit Queen in battle for India's biggest state

Rahul Gandhi hopes to oust Mayawati as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh
Andrew Buncombe

Monday 09 January 2012

Across Uttar Pradesh a fierce battle is under way for the domination
of India's largest and most politically important state.

The Congress Party – its campaign led by Rahul Gandhi, a man often
described as the nation's Prime Minster-in-waiting – is trying to
wrest control from the hands of Mayawati, the so-called "Dalit Queen",
who sits atop a huge vote bank made up of the poorest and most
oppressed. The contest ahead of next month's state election is heated,
vigorous and, at times, has seen moments of comedy.

In recent days, as Mr Gandhi has embarked on a five-day campaign tour
in the east of the state, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
has found itself at the centre of controversy after recruiting two
state politicians accused of corruption and subsequently sacked by Ms
Mayawati. Meanwhile, Ms Mayawati and her party, the symbol of which is
an elephant, have been ordered by the election commission to cover up
thousands of statues of herself she has erected throughout the state.

Whatever party gains control of the state government, headquartered in
the once-elegant city of Lucknow, the prize is considerable; with a
population of about 170 million, Uttar Pradesh returns 80 members to
the national assembly, more than any other state. Eight of the 12
individuals who have held the office of Prime Minister have hailed
from here and Uttar Pradesh exercises an unparalleled influence on
national politics.

Yet the state comes with heavy baggage: it is corrupt and
impoverished, riddled with crime and underdeveloped. Its indicators in
terms of income, life expectancy and nutrition are in some cases worse
than than sub-Saharan Africa. It was reported yesterday that at least
140 current members of the state assembly have criminal cases pending
against them.

As he took his campaign roadshow to the rural hinterland in the east,
where farmers grow rice and sugar cane, Mr Gandhi, 41, the son of
Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi and grandson of Indira Gandhi, took direct aim
at Ms Mayawati and her party. Delivering a well-polished speech, he
said the people of Uttar Pradesh had suffered for too long from
corruption and lack of development.

"In Lucknow there is a magic elephant," he said at a rally in a
village 40 miles from the town of Gorakhpur. "Usually an elephant eats
leaves and grass but the elephant of Lucknow flies in a helicopter and
eats the money of poor people. Mayawati has said this is a drama, but
I go to the houses of poor people. I eat their food, I take water from
the same well. Mayawati never visits."

The Congress Party faces a battle to stop Ms Mayawati from securing
the chief minister's office for the fifth time. Of the 403 assembly
seats, it holds just 22. The party has ruled out a pre-poll alliance
and, with little bluster, claims it will win by itself. Few believe

"They face a mammoth task. Mayawati is the only candidate with a solid
vote bank," Ashwini Bhatnaggar, a journalist and commentator from
Lucknow, said. "All being equal, I think Mayawati will get a simple

Mr Gandhi, whose constituency is in the west of Uttar Pradesh, has
celebrity status, enough to lure crowds of the curious. Yet it is not
clear this will automatically translate into votes. "I like Rahul
Gandhi, I like the way he talks. But I have not yet decided who I will
vote for," said Arsan Ali, a fishmonger with nine children who
attended a rally in the village of Pipraich, where the politician
earned warm but not ecstatic applause.

Last night in Lucknow, where a huge amount of public money was spent
erecting statues of Ms Mayawati and her elephants, none seemed to have
been covered yet. But there were plenty of television cameras
recording that for now, the chief minister and her powerful symbols
remained very much on show.


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