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Mayawati and the politics of power

Rs 86 crore. That’s 86 followed by seven zeroes. Apparently, it’s the amount former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati spent on renovating a home in Lucknow, according to details shared in response to a Right to Information application.

 The home, reportedly occupying five acres of prime land, was given to Mayawati when she was Leader of the Opposition in the mid-1990s. Why it was given is, possibly, another story for another day.

When the post of chief minister was finally hers, Mayawati spent vast amounts putting up a bullet-proof veranda, granite walls, a 14-room guesthouse, huge statue of herself and the party’s symbol, the elephant. All at the expense of people from her state, who lived humble lives but paid their taxes to a government they believed had their best interests at heart.

It’s a story for which parallels can be found in any major Indian city. Where there are funds, there’s the potential for misuse. Not all politicians are corrupt, of course, nor are they all obsessed with renovating their homes at the expense of taxpayers. The sad thing about this episode is how none of them have, at least until this point, criticised the former chief minister for what is obviously a blatant misuse of power. What makes this more shameful is how this flaunting of wealth has occurred in a place still struggling to meet the basic infrastructure needs of its citizens.

The American author Dean Koontz, known primarily for his suspense thrillers, once made this interesting observation: ‘A politician’s goal is always to manipulate public debate. I think there are some politicians with higher goals. But all of them get corrupted by power.’

A few months before the recent elections, Mayawati moved into her renovated home because she believed it was lucky for her. She lost.

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