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Thursday, February 10, 2011

(Published in Sify on 10 February, 2011, retrieved from

The closest encounter I’ve had with Mayawati made such a long-lasting impact that it became a daily ritual that went on for as long as I lived in Noida.

It happened one morning, as I glanced at the park on my way to office. Where no one could miss it, stood a humongous statue of the grinning chief minister, complete with a handbag. Something about the bag transfixed me. It was large, box-shaped, with long straps, almost like a laptop bag, and gaudy enough to remind one of The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens.

Now, I remember that it hung down to Mayawati’s feet. I also remember that the sheet in Wallace Stevens’ poem did not cover the lady’s feet. I wish I had taken a closer look at the extremity in question, but its significance didn’t strike me at the time.

However, now, we cannot ignore the hypothesis that there must be something incredibly alluring about the lady’s feet.

In May 2007, a lot of newsprint was spent in analyses of how and why some of the MLAs in her state refrained from touching her feet after taking oath as ministers. Most articles concluded that the ministers in question belonged to the ‘upper castes’ and were so trapped in their varna-based prejudices that they couldn’t adapt to the progressive laws of feudal sycophancy.

However, while her ministers may not have lived up to expectations, a group of Brahmins, complete with caste-marks and caste-threads, lined up to touch Mayawati’s feet and beg her to save them (though they weren’t specific about what they needed to be rescued from.)

On February 8, 2011, Mayawati’s feet made headlines again. In Naunakpur village of Auriya district in Uttar Pradesh, her personal security officer DSP Padam Singh decided to play shoeshine boy.

While some reports claim Mayawati asked the policeman to clean her shoes, others quote him saying he did it out of respect for her; however, every report I’ve read quotes UP cabinet secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh telling the media that the dirt on Maywati’s footwear could have caused her to have a nasty fall, and assuring them that they themselves would have been compelled to emulate Padam Singh’s act if they had noticed.

Some analysts take note of the fact that Mayawati didn’t even look at or thank Padam Singh for his timely service, and put it down to the psychological makeup that gave rise to her propensity for ticking off bureaucrats in public.

I think they’re being unfair on Mayawati. So many people have fallen at her feet over the years that they must be too calloused to retain sensory perception any more. She oughtn’t to be blamed for not noticing something she didn’t feel.

Her opponents criticise her for treating ‘government servants’ as ‘slaves’, but there again, is a logical fallacy. She does pay their salaries. When they behave well, she even extends their tenure. It is believed Padam Singh, who retired after being part of Mayawati’s entourage for sixteen years, was given a year’s extension for his stellar performance in the field. Naturally, on-field duties include saving the chief minister from a nasty fall.

The Congress in the UP, a.k.a. Rita Bahuguna Joshi, has been quick to call for Mayawati’s resignation. A timely swoop may have spared Joshi from a fortnight in judicial custody after she was accused of violating the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

Of course, two of the Congress’ own Gandhis have been...umm, footloose, shall we say? Last century, Sanjay Gandhi’s slippers were carried by minister N.D. Tiwari, and more recently, Rahul Gandhi was given the honour by Maharashtra’s Minister of State for Home, Ramesh Bagwe.

While the party might well take offence at Mayawati’s near-plagiarism, the UP chief minister’s singles score is higher than the Gandhi scions’ collective one. The reason might have something to do with Mayawati’s expenditure on pedicures.

The next time I visit Noida, I’ll take a closer look at Mayawati’s favoured appendages. Thankfully, statues can’t trip when there’s dust on top of their shoes.


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