‘When Mayawati needs sandals, private jet flies to Mumbai’
Portrait of a 'paranoid,megalomaniacal dictator': ministers forced to do sit-ups; private jets that fly to Mumbai to buy her new sandals; and a leader who lives in fear of being poisoned to death.
It isn’t often that we get to see for ourselves the lavish lifestyles of our rich and famous politicians, given the high security walls that they build around themselves. But every once in a while, we’re offered a sneak peak into their charmed lives, and we learn a little bit more about the many ways in which they manage to squander public resources and our taxes to live their obscenely opulent lives.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati has, of course, quite a distinguished record of wasting state resources on building numerous fanciful statues for herself. But she may be outdoing herself on this front, going by a recently released WikiLeaks cable that details some of her idiosyncratic ways ever since she returned to power with an absolute majority in 2007.
The cable was filed by the Political Consul in the US Embassy in New Delhi in October 2008 after a visit to three cities in Uttar Pradesh to get a sense of the Mayawati government’s records. The Consul met many business, political academic and media contacts to get a 360-degree assessment of the “political state of play.” The cable then pieces together the “portrait of a lady” in all her megalomaniacal excess, who has become a “paranoid dictator.”
It records that these contacts “remarked on Mayawati’s vice-like grip on all levers of power”, which meant that all decisions had to run through Mayawati or her small coterie of advisors. It then cites a Lucknow journalist as narrating an incident in which a State Minister was “forced to do sit-ups in front of her as penance for not first asking permission to call” on the State governor. Mayawati, the cable notes, also forced a civil servant to resign when she learned that his daughter had joined the Congress party in Delhi.
Pointing to Mayawati’s other “eccentricities, whims and insecurities”, the cable notes that “when she needed new sandals, her private jet flew empty to Mumbai to retrieve her preferred brand.”
According to Lucknow journalists, Mayawati employs nine cooks: of them, only two had the actual cooking responsibilities. The other were hired to watch over the cooks. In addition, Mayawati had two food tasters, since she is paranoid that she will be assassinated.
“In addition to an outsized security apparatus,” the cable says, “she constructed a private road from her residence to her office, which is cleaned immediately after her multiple vehicle convoy reaches its destination.”
The cable also records that journalists and civil servants in the State live in fear of Mayawati’s retribution. “Civil servants will not speak to the press for fear of losing their positions. Journalists admitted they feared retribution should they print anything negative about Mayawati. One journalist claimed that all civil servants' and most journalists' phones are tapped.”
The cable acknowledges that most of the Consul’s contacts acknowledged that the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh had (in 2008) improved somewhat from the previous Samajwadi Party government of Mulayam Singh Yadav. But it had a startling explanation to account for this.
“This is not because Mayawati has put more police on the streets or reduced corruption.” Instead, whereas Samajwadi Party rule was characterised by “rival mafia gangs shooting each other in the streets while vying for dominance,” Mayawati had “institutionalised corruption” - with competitive fealty payments to her replacing shootouts.
“Just to run as a BSP parliamentary candidate costs roughly 250,000 dollars,” the cable noted. “This does not ensure victory of course, but with the BSP likely to field candidates in over 300 constituencies nationally (in the 2009 general elections), it does ensure Mayawati's campaign coffers will be full, in addition to all her other revenue sources including payoffs and kickbacks from almost every interaction that large businesses have with the state government, standard practices in UP.”
In comparison, the cable noted, “several commercial contacts in Lucknow and Kanpur spoke glowingly of the business climate in Gujarat and its Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.”
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