On 56th birthday, Mayawati keeps it low-key; slams poll panel for draping of statues

Lucknow: In the midst of the heat of the electoral campaign, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati is celebrating her birthday today. She has turned 56. But unlike the usual spectacle that marks the Dalit czarina's birthday in the state, celebrations this time around were low-key, courtesy the Election Commission (EC) which seems to have played party-pooper of sorts.

Hence, the ubiquitous sight of Mayawati dressed in her trademark pink salwar-kameez was there. But there was none of the leader, flanked by her partymen and bureaucrats, cutting a massive cake. Instead, Behenji released a book of her memoirs, aptly called the "Blue Book" - in sync with all things blue that symbolises her party. She also announced that her birthday would be a small affair, involving her family only, acceding to the limitations set out by the poll panel.

The modest celebration was there for all to see. The state capital, Lucknow, which in the past has been awash with blue to usher in her birth anniversary, bears a barren look.

In the poll season, the Election Commission has ensured that the extravaganza, that has marked Behenji's birthday in the last four years and has been much-criticised, has been done away with.

"We will be watching the expenses," said Umesh Sinha, Chief Electoral Officer of Uttar Pradesh.

The birthday dampener has been preceded by the Election Commission's order earlier this month asking for draping of the statues of the Chief Minister as also her party's symbol, the elephant, across the state. The controversial directive was put forth as a move to ensure a level-playing field to all political parties ahead of the assembly elections.

But Mayawati today cried foul, alleging that the poll panel's order was "one-sided" and "anti-Dalit". "The Election Commission made a one-sided decision to cover statues of elephants and those of mine installed to honour the will of Kanshiram, without hearing my party." With elections round the corner, the Dalit agenda clearly dominated her speech at the party headquarters. "Centre and Opposition are insulting Kanshiram; Dalits will not forgive them", she said.

She also cited the example of a park in Chandigarh erected by the Congress that carries a 45-feet-high hand - the party's symbol. Calling upon the poll panel to cover such structures of the Congress in other states, she said, "If the CEC is not just, BSP will call it anti-Dalit, under Congress pressure."

Putting up a brave face, she also said that the statue-screening incident had saved the party crores by giving it huge publicity. "CEC, other parties have publicised BSP for free, I thank them."

With little to cheer about on her birthday, Mayawati would be truly hoping for a win in the upcoming elections next month. A wish she has already expressed to the electorate, something she reiterated again today- UP as her birthday gift.

With corruption, incumbency and a resurgent opposition seriously threatening her chances, victory in the polls would truly be a sweet surprise, a fitting belated birthday gift.
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