NEW DELHI: India’s so-called Dalit Queen, a former schoolteacher who has become the country’s most powerful untouchable politician championing the poorest people, was on Wednesday revealed to be on track to earn Rs 600m this year.
Income tax records show that Mayawati Kumari, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has amassed the fortune through political contributions from supporters in her Bahujan Samaj (Majority People’s) Party. She has demanded gifts from loyal followers and elected politicians have been asked to donate a minimum of Rs 300,000 a year.
Mayawati’s earnings — the 19th highest in India — will be more than 56,000 times the average income of one of her voters this year. With a population of 175 million, Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and also one of its poorest.
Mayawati’s victory last year was the first time a dalit-led party had won a state election single-handedly, but with eight of India’s 13 prime ministers having come from Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati now talks openly of becoming India’s next leader.
Her rapidly increasing prosperity has led to a slew of corruption allegations, all of which she denies and none of which have dented her popularity. According to the Central Bureau of Investigation, when officials raided her New Delhi home last year in response to one of those allegations they found documents showing 72 properties and 54 bank accounts.
But pollsters say that Indian voters — especially those at the bottom of the pile — have become inured to politicians’ opulence. There was little objection when Maywati, born one of nine children to a lowly postal clerk, celebrated her 52nd birthday last month at a five-star Delhi hotel and was photographed draped in chunky gold and diamond jewellery being fed mouthfuls of a 50kg Black Forest gateau by high-caste officials.
“Dalit voters, like the rest of the electorate, know that politicians are amassing huge amounts of wealth. They reason why should not one of their own do the same,” said Yogendra Yadav, a senior fellow at Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
“In many ways (Mayawati) is being honest about declaring her wealth. It is visible and for everyone to see.”
To stamp her presence on Uttar Pradesh’s state capital, Mayawati is building a $100m park in honour of her party’s founder, Kanshi Ram. Statues of her are also popping up all over the state and, unburdened by modesty, her autobiography has a chapter entitled: If People Call me a Super Chief Minister, what can I do?
Claiming she was likely to be assassinated by opponents, she has also bought a number of bullet-proof SUVs and is installing a GBP300,000 security system from Israel. Although she remains popular among voters, many analysts say that something needs to be done to curb the rising cost of politics in India, which in turn fuels a dangerous “money culture”. Laws which prohibit election spending in a single parliamentary constituency of more than Rs 2.5m are widely flouted.
“You have to spend at least Rs 100m to fight a parliamentary election in India these days. Mayawati is showing a fortune in her income tax returns but it is a small amount in the Indian context,” said Jayprakash Narayan, president of Lok Satta, which campaigns to clean up politics.
“Money is spent on buying votes, buying liquor, hiring thugs for muscle power. Candidates do this so that they create an aura of invincibility and inevitability. But then the people who can give parties for this sort of money will just end up controlling policy.” The ascent of caste-based parties has transformed Indian politics. But India’s social hierarchy still exists. Only last week a dalit boy was boiled to death in oil for daring to argue with his boss in an Uttar Pradesh sweet factory.—Dawn/Guardian News Service