Marketing Maya

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The Maya effect A street-side vendor with BSP propaganda material in Lucknow Photo: Ajay Singh

THE PLAN is to immortalise her within her own lifetime. Ever since she became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for the fourth time, Mayawati and ‘Brand Mayawati’ is being projected in a manner that she succeeds both in the political as well as the social arena, so as to outshine her own mentor, Kanshi Ram, and even Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.

A time capsule in her dream project, the Gautam Buddha University. Plaques, memorials, parks and statues. Folk singers singing paeans to her and folk dancers performing dances about her. Audio cassettes. Computer desktop wallpapers. Films, documentaries, even ringtones —behen Mayawati is out to displace the dalit icons of yesteryear. A horde of loyal bureaucrats and trusted BSP lieutenants are working overtime to make sure that Brand Mayawati becomes a successful marketing mantra across India and abroad.

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THE ILLUSION OF MAYA

1. 60 life-size granite elephants in the ‘elephant court’ in Dr Ambedkar Park, a salute to the BSP party symbol

2. The UP police is now dressed in the bright blue of the BSP flag. It’s goodbye to khaki and the earlier white uniform

3. Folk singers sing paeans of the golden era of Mayawati. The most popular one, Maya Chalisa, is out in audio casettes and CDs

4. Many a Bollywood director has offered to film her life, one of them is affectionately called Behenji—the Great Sister

5. Advertisements on national and regional channels announcing thatbehenji is without doubt, Prime Ministerial material

6. The state Information department keeps Mayawati blissful in ignorance. It scans all news channels and papers, for the timely erasure of anti-government news

7. Cable operators were forced to take a regional channel that showed anti-BSP news off air

8. Behenji’s media management office has had over six journalists fired for write-ups against the government

9. Behenji’s media management office has had over six journalists fired for write-ups against the government

10. The glory of Mayawati has reached computer desktop wallpapers, ringtones and even a documentary where a woman takes on goonda raj

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UP’s capital Lucknow is a living example of how Brand Mayawati is being promoted. Apart from the ubiquitous hoardings praising her and detailing her achievements, the street dividers and bridge railings are painted in her party’s colours, even traffic policemen now look like members of the Bahujan Samaj Volunteer Force as their uniforms were changed from the traditional white to a blue similar to the one worn by BSP cadres. “People often mistake us for BSP men,” says a disgusted traffic constable.

Satish Gujral, the architect of the original Dr Ambedkar Park, is appalled as its entire design has been changed. It used to be a lush green area of 28 acres with few concrete structures. Today, it is a growing concrete jungle. Statues of many dalit icons are being replaced with that of Mayawati. Elephant statues — the BSP party symbol — are dotted everywhere and 60 life-size granite elephants fill an ‘elephant court’. “It is a colossal waste of money and self-glorification at the state exchequer’s cost,” says Laxmikant Shukla, a state civil services officer who was suspended by Mayawati for writing a book against her allegedly casteist policies.

While several requests have come from those who want to write Mayawati’s biography, behenji has written a multi-volume autobiography called My Struggle-ridden Life and the Bahujan Samaj Movement.

“Mayawati sells more than Kanshi Ram, Dr Ambedkar or any other dalit ideologue,” claims Mewa Lal Gautam, owner of the Bahujan Sahitya Bhandar in Lucknow. Despite costing Rs 1,350, Mayawati’s autobiography sells like hot cakes and is always in short supply. Elections or not, a paean called the Maya Chalisa, audio cassettes of her speeches and songs and ballads by folk singers in her praise are always in demand.

As many as half-a-dozen Bollywood directors and producers have offered to make a film on her. However, not one has been given the go-ahead from her. Ad film maker Kailash Masoom, from Mayawati’s home district of Ghaziabad, has proposed a film called Behenji — the Great Sister. A song from the film says it all — Andhiara jayega, bahina ke sashan mein ujiara ayega (Darkness will flee and there will be light in our sister’s reign).

Her loyal bureaucrats have managed to persuade her to appear in small documentaries and some ad capsules to bolster Brand Mayawati for the coming Lok Sabha polls. The documentary has all the ingredients of a Bollywood potboiler. It depicts a woman (Mayawati) taking on criminals in the state and putting an end to the goonda raj of the previous regime. Besides her government’s achievements, the documentary, which is to be screened in cinema halls and mobile theatres, depicts the elimination of dacoits and the jailing of criminals by her regime. An ad blitzkrieg has already been launched on all national and regional channels to drive home the point that behenji is Prime Ministerial material.

The state Information Department is now a virtual BSP office. All party press notes are drafted, printed, circulated and emailed through it. The overburdened department used to have a Principal Secretary and a Director-cum-Secretary, but now it has a Principal Secretary, a Secretary, two Special Secretaries and, surprisingly, for the first time, a Deputy Inspector General from the state police. The job of the police officer is to scan all news channels for anti-government news. The moment such news is shown, officers scramble to kill or dilute it beforebehenji sees it. One regional news channel was punished for consistently showing anti-government news by forcing cable operators to remove the channel from the prime channels’ list.

THOUGH BEHENJI maintains that she does not give a damn for newspaper reports as her vote-bank does not read them, her media management is more aggressive than that of her bête noire Mulayam. A Resident Editor and over half-a-dozen journalists from various media bodies have so far lost their jobs for write-ups against her government’s policies. “Unlike other politicians, she talks directly to owners, not to editors or bureau chiefs when she wants to gag the press,” confides an officer of the department.

She understands social transformation and transition better than many mature politicians. She cleverly changed her slogan fromjiske jitini hissedari, uski utni bhagedari (representation in proportion to their numbers) to jiski jitni taiyyari, uski utni bhagedari(representation in proportion to preparedness) to expand her Dalit-Muslim rainbow coalition.

With the Lok Sabha polls round the corner, Mayawati is mixing her new political ideology with development to make a heady brew which, she hopes, will win over voters in the state. Outside UP, the BSP is depending on Brand Mayawati to increase her party’s tally so as to fulfil her ambition of becoming the Prime Minister.

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