Mayawati wants birthday to prove undiminished strength

Lucknow: Lucknow is unarguably blue today. In a good way. At least if you're a Mayawati supporter.

To celebrate the Chief Minister's 55th birthday, the entire city has been lit in blue - the colour of her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

For those who prefer less subliminal messages, Mayawati's face has occupied every inch of outdoor advertising space. Hundreds of billboards loom large over the city.

There is the by-now-standard criticism of the lavish celebrations. 'Who is paying for all this? The CBI should probe the expenses,'' says Shivpal Yadav, the Leader of the Opposition in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. 

But it's equally true that thousands of her voters have seen Mayawati's over-the-top birthdays as a sign of empowerment of the under-privileged, and have joined the big birthday parties with enthusiasm.

Mayawati's party pooper is the MLA she suspended earlier this week, now in jail for allegedly raping a 17-year-old Dalit girl. After she threatened to complain to the police, the MLA quickly accused her of stealing from his home. She was thrown into jail, while it took the police close to a month to file a case against him and then arrest him.

The Opposition has risen to the occasion. ''She should be ashamed. Her MLA has raped a minor girl, and she is celebrating her birthday. If she had any shame, she would call off the celebrations, or at least toned it down,'' said Rita Bahuguna, who is the President of the UP Congress Committee.    

Sources close to Mayawati say she wants the big celebrations to prove that the allegation of rape, and of police complicity in protecting her party-man, hasn't tarnished her sheen.  And to help voters buy that, she is expected to announce developmental schemes.