Graft charges bite as Mayawati eyes polls
By Annie Banerji
While the government of India announced austerity measures in July to rationalise its expenditure in an attempt to meet its fiscal deficit target, the chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh didn’t seem to get the message.
Mayawati, popularly known as the “untouchables’ queen” for her championing of poor, lower-caste Indians, has spent over $4 million from the state’s contingency fund without budgetary approval on renovation and new construction at her bungalow.
This year, her government will spend more for her house, personal security and comfort.
In its recent report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India criticised the chief minister for gross financial mismanagement on memorials of her mentors and infrastructure and irrigation projects, which led to a loss of millions for the state exchequer.
After three short stints in the country’s most populous state between 1995 and 2003, many have started pointing fingers at her governance at the end of her fourth term in office. The increasing crimes against women, Dalits and protests by farmers against the government’s land acquisition policy raised a number of eyebrows even at the judicial level.
“The series of events shows lethargy and lackadaisical attitude of the state government,” the Indian Supreme Court’s judicial bench observed against the manner in which her government proceeded in acquiring land in rural hinterlands.
Regardless of notifications from the CAG, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Supreme Court on Mayawati’s governance on a number of cases, no formal prosecution has taken place till date.
The ruling Congress party, which has set Rahul Gandhi as the front-runner to canvass votes for the Uttar Pradesh elections due next year, has pledged to overhaul archaic land acquisition laws. But due to a slew of corruption scandals, the government has been distracted from any broader development goals, and a land reform bill has yet to come up for discussion in an increasingly fractious parliament.
Affectionately called “sister” by her supporters, Mayawati won her campaign in 2007 with the slogan “for the benefit of all” but the CBI says it has evidence a considerable amount of the benefit went into her own pockets in her previous tenure between 2003 and 2007.
With spiralling corruption allegations against both Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress party, it may be a tough call for both in the 2012 state elections.