15 January 1956: Mayawati, BSP leader, was born

Mayawati, the head of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and four-time chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was born on 15 January 1956 in Delhi in a Dalit family. Besides being among the most important political leaders of Uttar Pradesh, she is a Dalit icon and her clout extends far beyond the boundaries of India’s most populous state.

Mayawati had a simple childhood, and her father, Prabhu Das, was employed with the post office. She secured her bachelor’s degree in arts from Kalindi Women’s College, and a law degree from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. She also did a B.Ed. from Ghaziabad.

In September 1977, during a conference on Dalits organised by the Janata Party's Raj Narain, who had defeated Indira Gandhi in the Lok Sabha polls from Rae Bareilly, repeatedly referred to Dalits as Harijans. This angered the young Mayawati, who was present at the event. As the journalist Bhupesh Bhandari wrote in the Business Standard in December 2011: “Even in those early days she used to find the term [Harijan], coined by Mahatma Gandhi, condescending and thus hugely offensive. She walked up to the stage and tore into Raj Narain. A couple of months later, on a cold winter night, Kanshi Ram [founder of the BSP] visited her at home. The burly Sikh [his family belonged to a Dalit community but had converted to Sikhism] had quit his government job to fight the cause of the Dalit community. He needed somebody like Mayawati.”

Kanshi Ram succeeded in convincing Mayawati, who was at the time studying for the IAS exams, to join his movement. He reportedly told her that if she followed him, one day she would be giving orders to IAS officers. It was a prediction that would come true.

When Kanshi Ram founded the BSP in 1984, he made Mayawati a member of his core team. In 1989 she was elected to Parliament, but electoral success did not come instantly. The journalist and political analyst Paranjoy Guha Thakurta wrote in the Outlook magazine in May 2008: “Far from benefiting from being anointed Kanshi Ram’s successor very early in her political career, Mayawati has experienced defeat many times. She lost the first three Lok Sabha elections she contested. Yet she had displayed an amazing ability to claw back — often at the very point when she appeared to have been convincingly vanquished.”

By 1990 Mayawati was a rising star in the BSP. Recalling the time in early 1990s when she first met Mayawati, the senior journalist Vidya Subrahmaniam wrote in The Hindu in March 2010: “[Kanshi Ram] introduced me to his understudy, a wisp of a girl with daring in her eyes. By then [. . .] Mayawati was already a veteran of many Lok Sabha elections. Her vote trajectory was a harbinger of things to come —  as much for [. . .] Mayawati herself as for her party. Kairana, 1984: Third with 44,445 votes. Bijnor, 1985: Third with 61,504 votes. Hardwar, 1987: Second with 1,25,399 votes. Bijnor, 1989: First with 1,83,189 votes [. . .] Mayawati was as aggressive as her mentor was calm and reflective.”

In 1995 Mayawati became the youngest chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, though only for a short stint as part of a coalition government. She again became chief minister in 1997 and 2002-03, forming a coalition with the BJP. After becoming chief minister for the third time, she told rediff.com in an interview: “My aim is to have a Bahujan Samaj government at the Centre, which was also the dream of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar . . . [It] may take some time, but I am sure we will make it one day. We walked on to the political turf of Uttar Pradesh for the first time in 1983 and it took us 12 years to ride to power in 1995. This is our third stint in power and each time our party’s strength has grown.”

When her mentor Kanshi Ram, who was suffering from multiple ailments, died in 2006, Mayawati in a statement to the media said: “The last rites of Kanshi Ramji would be performed according to Buddhist religion and his mortal remains would be consigned to fire at Nigambodh Ghat. But his ashes would not be immersed in Ganga, Yamuna; rather, they would be kept in the party offices as well as the official residence for eternity [. . .] I would carry on and try to achieve the goals that he entrusted me with [. . .]”

In the 2007 Uttar Pradesh polls, the BSP reached out to a cross-section of voters, including the upper castes. Mayawati led her party to a spectacular victory, winning 206 seats in the 403-seater assembly. The BSP’s main rival, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, could garner only 97 seats.

Though the BSP lost the 2012 assembly polls, with Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav becoming the chief minister, Mayawati’s importance in Indian politics remained undiminished. As the journalist Sharat Pradhan wrote in the Outlook in August 2013: [T]he first ever Dalit woman to head any state government, she [Mayawati] earned a place in history books, prompting then PM P.V. Narasimha Rao to describe her rise as ‘a wonder of democracy’. That shortlived stay on the hot seat also transformed her from a Kanshi Ram understudy to a leader in her own right, with an instinctive grasp of the possibilities of politics. The succeeding two stints in power (with BJP support) cemented that image and by the time she rode to power entirely on her own strength . . . in the . . . UP assembly in 2007, Mayawati had long become a very viable brand.”

Also on this day:

1868 — Ramgopal Ghosh, social reformer and leader of Young Bengal group, passed away

1926 — K.D. Jadhav, independent India’s first individual Olympic medallist, was born

1948 — The first Indian Army Day was celebrated

1951 — Pritish Nandy, media and television personality, was born

1966 — Bhanu Priya, South Indian actress, was born

1982 — Neil Nitin Mukesh, Hindi film actor, was born  

2009 — Tapan Sinha, renowned Indian filmmaker, passed away 

2012 —Homai Vyarawalla,India’s first woman photojournalist, passed away  

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