Personal ego has led Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to challenge the authority of the union government and undermine the status of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi with whom she seems clearly out to settle several personal scores.
Mayawati has cancelled the land allotment for a rail coach factory in Gandhi's constituency Rae Bareli and the Congress chief was forced to call off a public rally earlier this week. While the Congress rank and file has yet to get over the shock of the virtual streetfight provoked by the chief minister of India's most populous state, a close look at the series of events over the past 17 months of her rule throws enough light on the factors that propelled Mayawati to take on Sonia.
It began with her demand for a special economic package of a whopping Rs.800 billion for the development of Uttar Pradesh's most backward regions of Purvanchal and Bundelkhand. The demand was so far-fetched that no government at the centre could concede it for any state. But Mayawati's logic was straight and simple - 'Give me the fund or face the music'.
Interestingly, Mayawati used the denial of special package as a leverage point every time she needed to train her guns at the centre -- even when it came to withdrawing support to the UPA government and the crucial trust vote on the nuclear deal in July.
While she kept the issue alive, she added to her arsenal another denial by the central government. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader demanded SPG security and was not at all amused when the central government conveyed to her that she was not entitled to that security under the provisions of the SPG Act which clearly lists the handful of people who can avail themselves of it -- prime minister, former prime ministers and their immediate kin.
'When Sonia Gandhi's son and daughter can get that SPG security, why can't I be given the same?' she asked.
'Let the centre amend the act to include chief ministers facing such serious security threats like me?'
Mayawati could, however, never put out any plausible evidence to substantiate her threat perception, which emerged after a crude hand-made map of the road junction close to the chief minister's residence was found from a man picked up as a suspected terrorist.
With the central government continuing to give her the cold shoulder, Mayawati made it loud and clear to all and sundry that she would not pardon the Manmohan Singh government for what she termed 'utter discrimination'.
What made matters worse was the corruption case pending against her. Even as an Income Tax tribunal gave her a clean chit - after her plea that the income of Rs.520 million filed in her annual returns was mostly 'gifts' from her 'socially and economically weak supporters' - the CBI unearthed sufficient incontrovertible material to nail her.
'Clearly, there is no escape route for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister to save herself from the charges of amassing wealth far disproportionate to her legitimate sources of income,' said a top CBI official. 'We have enough evidence.'
Mayawati was further peeved when the Congress party led a demonstration to protest the forcible acquisition of local farmers' land to expand her one-time humble dwelling into a grand private estate in her native village - Badalpur in Ghaziabad district - where she also proposed to build a huge recreaton centre. The plan was quite akin to the multi-million grandiose projects undertaken by her sworn political foe Mulayam Singh Yadav during his regime in his own home, Saefai in Etawah district.
The inimitable BSP supremo had apparently then made up her mind to teach the Congress party and the UPA leadership a lesson.
Mayawati could not think of a better retort than what she did in Rae Rareli last week - cancelling the allotment of land for a rail coach factory followed by denial of permission for Sonia Gandhi's rally in her own political constituency. Who cares if that means depriving the unemployed of some 11,000 potential job opportunities? And so what if the action cocks a snook at the very foundation of a federal democracy.
(Sharat Pradhan is a Lucknow-based journalist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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