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Mayawati at the news stand | by counterclockwise
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Mayawati at the news stand

During the last month I was in India, the news was full of the election for the state assembly of Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh, or UP, is India's most populous state; home to a sixth of India's people, it's larger than most countries. It's an important state because its size gives it considerable political pull nationally, but also because it plays an important cultural roll, as the heartland of north Indian culture. Unfortunately, it's also generally considered a 'backward' state, with high poverty, low literacy, and minimal government spending on welfare programs.

 

The Bahujan Samaj Party ended up winning, under the leadership of Mayawati, a one-named Dalit (untouchable caste) woman whose face plastered the papers the next morning. As often happens in politics in India, identity was more important than policy: although I read many articles about the elections and about Mayawati, I really never found out what her party stood for, only that their constituent base was an unexpected blend of Brahmins and Dalits.

 

The results of the elections were unexepectedly unequivocal. There had not been a clear majority in UP elections since 1993, and elections have tended to be fraught with violent incidents. I've heard UP refered to as Ulta Pradesh, a reference to the hindi phrase ulta-pulta, "topsy-turvy."

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Uploaded on June 5, 2007