miracle of democracy’
This is how then
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao described the elevation of Mayawati as
the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1995. The first Dalit to ever head
a state government, Mayawati has defied much punditry forecasting her
political demise to return as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister last year
with a landslide win. Journalist-writer Ajoy Bose’s
comprehensive biography of the 52-year-old leader, Behenji, set for release
next week, chronicles her dramatic life. TEHELKA presents exclusive excerpts
on the two men who most impacted her life.
person whom she loved and respected most as a child was not her father,
Prabhu Das, with whom she had a troubled relationship. It was her paternal
grandfather Mangal Sen, a former sepoy of the British army who had seen
action in Italy during the First World War. Mayawati was her grandfather’s
favourite, and he made her feel special and wanted. She also admired his
wisdom, lofty principles and lack of prejudice. ‘He was so principled
and progressive that the entire village respected him for his views and
came to ask for his advice. Often he was the one who resolved disputes
in the village,’ recalls Mayawati in her autobiography.
She recounts with
obvious admiration that her grandfather refused to remarry despite losing
his wife when his son, Prabhu Das, who only six months old. Ignoring the
advice of his friends and relatives to marry again, he single-handedly
brought up his son. In sharp contrast, Mayawati is openly contemptuous
of her own father who was inclined to listen to his relatives and friends
when they advised him to acquire a second wife when his wife, Ramrati,
produced three daughters in succession.They told him that as the only
son of his father it was his duty to have sons who would continue the
family name. Many years later Mayawati recalled the sadness and humiliation
caused to her mother by her father’s desperation for male progeny.
It was Mangal Sen
who put his foot down, forbidding his son from marrying again. ‘My grandfather
said that granddaughters were perfectly capable of continuing the family
heritage. He said that if girls are given a good education they can be
as capable if not better than sons,’ writes Mayawati.
Eventually, a few
years later, her mother produced sons with such a vengeance that she gave
birth to six in a row. Prabhu Das was overjoyed and boasted about being
the father of so many sons. His bias towards his sons was so evident,
Mayawati recalls, that his daughters were sent to low-performing government
schools for a free education, while the family’s small income was spent
on educating the boys at private schools and on extra tuition when needed.
‘My father was convinced that his sons were his future and therefore needed
special grooming. Even though I was the best student in the family, my
father did not spend any money on my education.’
Fate provided Mayawati
with her revenge in 1993. Her political standing increased sharply once
the BSP joined hands with the Samajwadi Party to form the government in
Uttar Pradesh. While Mulayam Singh Yadav became state chief minister,
Mayawati, the BSP’s point person in Uttar Pradesh, closely supervising
her party’s interests in the state, earned the sobriquet ‘super chief
minister’. Prabhu Das was besieged in his ancestral Badalpur village by
friends, relatives and village elders asking for special favours now that
his daughter had become such a VVIP.
When her father came
to Lucknow to urge Mayawati to announce some special schemes for Badalpur
she could not help but taunt him, ‘But I thought it was your sons who
were going to carry forward the family name! Why don’t you ask one of
them to construct colleges, hospitals and roads in your village?’
It was after nine
on a winter night in 1977. Mayawati settled down after dinner with her
pile of books to study for the IAS entrance examinations. It was a nightly
ritual for the twenty-one-year-old schoolteacher who was enrolled in the
first year of the LL.B course in Delhi University. Her parents and other
siblings were preparing to retire for the night. But Mayawati would study
till after midnight. She was determined to leap over the daunting hurdle
of the IAS exams and become a district collector.
Suddenly there was
a loud knock on the door of their house. It was an unusual interruption
because relatives and friends rarely dropped by so late at night. When
Mayawati opened the door, she found, much to her surprise, a BAMCEF leader
whom she recognised from previous Dalit public meetings. A balding middle-aged
man wearing crumpled clothes and a muffler round his neck accompanied
him. It was her first encounter with Kanshi Ram.
Mayawati and her family
were thrilled by this unexpected visit. Kanshi Ram was already a respected
name with the urban Dalit community across the country.
The Dalit leader came
straight to the point. Ignoring Prabhu Das, he spoke directly to Mayawati.
Pointing at the pile of books scattered around her table, Kanshi Ram asked,
‘You seem to be busy studying a lot of books! What is it you want to become
after so much study?’
Pleased at this attention
from such a senior Dalit leader, Mayawati announced somewhat piously,
‘I am studying to pass the IAS exams and become a collector so that I
can serve my community properly.’ Her father also piped up, starting to
boast how he had been grooming his daughter to become a big officer so
that she could be a pride to the Dalit community.
But Kanshi Ram waved
Prabhu Das aside. Once again he addressed Mayawati directly. ‘I think
you are making a big mistake,’ he declared.
And then Kanshi Ram
said something that sent an electric charge through Mayawati and completely
floored her father.
‘Your courage, dedication
to the Dalit cause and many other sterling qualities has come to my notice.
I can make you such a big leader one day that not one but a whole row
of collectors will line up with files in front of you waiting for orders.
You can then truly serve the community and get things done,’ the Dalit
That evening Kanshi
Ram spent over an hour with Mayawati at her house discussing various social
and political issues. Not surprisingly, the conversation focused on the
exploitation and discrimination suffered by Dalits through history and
also about those leaders and movements that fought back. They agreed that
mainstream political parties were dominated by upper caste and collaborated
in their domination of Dalits and other oppressed communities. Both lamented
the collapse of the Dalit movement after the death of Baba Ambedkar and
Mayawati nodded vigorously in agreement as Kanshi Ram expounded his theory
about the bahujan samaj and the need for a rainbow coalition of the oppressed
to fight the establishment more effectively.
world had been turned upside down in just one hour. All of a sudden her
earlier mission in life had evaporated. The words of Kanshi Ram echoed
inside her head long after he had left the house. She saw the logic of
what he said about the limited role of a government officer in a society
where political parties and leaders called the shots. But was she capable
of living up to his great expectations?
It was certainly the
defining moment of Mayawati’s life and career. So far, her father had
guided her on the well-trodden path to success. This was the first time
she was being asked to take a risk by abandoning the certainties of a
career in administrative service. Despite her innate pragmatism, there
was something in Kanshi Ram’s vision that made Mayawati feel like throwing
caution to the winds. Part of the temptation to believe the Dalit leader
no doubt lay in his adulatory remarks about her. He made her feel much
bigger than she had ever felt before. But there was also the irresistible
tug of the brave new world of political adventure that could never be
matched by the safe enclosure of government service bound by rules and
The growing displeasure
of Prabhu Das at his daughter’s obsession with Kanshi Ram and his politics
was understandable. Independent Dalit politics did not seem to have much
of a future in the late seventies and early eighties.
At first he tried
to persuade Mayawati to give up her obsession with political activism.
When this failed, he suggested that if she was indeed determined to become
a politician, she should at least join an established party like the Congress
that had adequate resources and a national profile. ‘You won’t even become
a local municipal corporator if you hang around losers like Kanshi Ram,’
Prabhu Das taunted his daughter.
Her father’s hostility
towards Kanshi Ram and his jeers about her lack of political prospects
only served to put Mayawati’s back up. ‘Either you stop meeting Kanshi
Ram, give up this silly politics and start preparing again for the IAS
exam, or else leave my house immediately,’ he shouted.
Having taken the plunge
in the heat of the moment, Mayawati had no idea what to do next. She had
been unable to consult Kanshi Ram as he was out of town on tour. In desperation,
she took shelter in the BAMCEF office in Karol Bagh, not very far from
her father’s Inderpuri house. Fortunately, Kanshi Ram was back soon. Mayawati
told him about her dramatic decision to abandon her home for him and his
politics. She said that she had decided to dedicate her life to the movement.
her autobiography Mayawati admits that there were widespread rumours among
fellow activists after she left her father’s house and moved into the
room Kanshi Ram had hired. Finally after the insinuations got really offensive,
Mayawati writes, she went to Kanshi Ram one day and told him that it would
be better if with her accumulated salary she bought an independent room
(no landlord in any lower middle class Delhi colony would have dreamt
renting out a room to an unmarried girl).
There was also huge
pressure on Kanshi Ram. He was blamed by Mayawati’s rivals for showing
her undue favour as she became more and more prominent in the movement,
superseding older and more senior colleagues. Indeed, till a brain stroke
completely crippled the Dalit leader in 2003, many politicians and journalists
were convinced that her main asset was an older man’s weakness for a much
younger woman. That is why there was a widespread impression after Kanshi
Ram’s stroke that this also spelled the end of Mayawati who was seen as
merely his creature. It is only after the BSP continued to prosper in
leaps and bounds under her stewardship, even improving when Kanshi Ram
was totally incapacitated, was there a grudging acceptance in political
and media circles about Mayawati’s own abilities.
Both were extremely
touchy about any suggestion of a physical relationship. Mayawati vehemently
reiterated on more than one occasion that Kanshi Ram was like an elder
brother or even father figure to her and that the insinuations about them
were despicable. He, too, was infuriated by journalists, many of them
undoubtedly motivated by upper caste antagonism, who baited him on the
subject of Mayawati.
was no denying the strong personal chemistry between Kanshi Ram and Mayawati,
vouched for by all those who came in contact with them. And as is often
the case, it was the intensity of their quarrels that often underlined
the emotional bond. The bickering, according to old associates, sometimes
turned so explosive that those within earshot trembled. Kanshi Ram’s hot
temper, blunt language and propensity to use his hands when provoked,
were legendary. Mayawati, too, was no pushover. She gave as good as she
got, never shy of using the choicest expletives. From all accounts it
was the lady who usually won the argument.
More than anything
else, Mayawati was extraordinarily possessive about Kanshi Ram. She felt
threatened by anyone who got too close to him. There were innumerable
people he brought into the party who ultimately had to leave because she
hounded them out. Although Kanshi Ram from the very start held Mayawati
very high in his esteem and made no secret of his admiration, strangely
enough she remained insecure about him for a very long time, in fact until
she finally established complete control over the organisation. Old associates
recall how when Kanshi Ram would be sitting in the living room of his
house speaking to a visitor, Mayawati would find an excuse to come into
the room virtually every five minutes.
The two were quite
different in temperament. Kanshi Ram was highly sociable, loved to chat
with politicians and journalists, and trusted people with whom he shared
ideas and beliefs. Mayawati, on the other hand, was an introvert who felt
political chit-chat was a waste of time. She was also distrustful of virtually
everybody in Kanshi Ram’s circle of contacts, friends and acquaintances.
She spent enormous effort and time to find out whom he met and what they
discussed. Later, if he did not tell her about the meeting or discussion,
Mayawati would surprise him with the details and quarrel with him for
keeping her in the dark.
Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Books India