India's low-caste leader eyes prime minister's job
India's low-caste leader eyes prime minister's job.
2008-08-11 17:19:14 -
LUCKNOW, India (AP) - Mayawati, India's most powerful low-caste politician, says she is aiming for the country's top job with parliamentary elections months away.
Mayawati, who uses one name, last year became the top elected official of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state with a population of 180 million and one that often sets the political agenda for the rest of the country.
Mayawati, who has become an icon for millions of lower-caste people, and could be the first Dalit to become a prime minister, announced her ambition at a massive weekend rally where she told her supporters that nobody could stop her from becoming India's prime minister.
«If I could be chief minister four times, I could well be the prime minister of the country,» the diminutive leader said Saturday to riotous applause.
«Who can stop me from reaching the top post
Dalits, whom Mayawati represents, are at the bottom of Hinduism's complex social hierarchy.
Mayawati said she was proud to have been born in a low-caste family.
«Struggle is the way of my life and you will make me prime minister one day,» she said.
While discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal in India, Dalits face enormous social prejudice. In much of rural India, people of lower castes are kept from upper-caste drinking wells, barred from temples and kept out of village schools. Violations are often met with violence.
India must hold national elections by May next year, and while Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party currently has only 17 members in the lower house of India's 542-member Parliament, in the last state elections she managed to forge a powerful coalition that brought together low-caste and upper-caste Brahmin voters and candidates.
Since becoming chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati has also been working to establish a presence in several other states.
Both the Congress party, which heads India's ruling coalition and the opposition right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party fared poorly in Uttar Pradesh's last state elections.
The state sends the largest number of lawmakers, 80, to the federal Parliament and strength in Uttar Pradesh is viewed as a significant advantage. It remains to be seen if Mayawati can parlay her state win to national victory.