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"Dalit Queen" Mayawati under fire over statues
LUCKNOW, India |
LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - India's "untouchable queen" who is one of the country's best-known politicians has come under fire after the Supreme Court questioned her spending about $425 million on erecting statues of herself and her party leaders.
The top court had given Mayawati, a Dalit who has been touted as a future prime minister, four weeks to respond to allegations that she has erected dozens of statues with public funds in Uttar Pradesh, one of India's poorest state.
"In such a state where the human development index is so low, each rupee should go for development," Ravi Kant, a lawyer who brought the petition against Mayawati, told reporters in state capital Lucknow.
Mayawati's political star has fallen in recent months amid growing accusations of extravagant spending. Her party won 21 seats in the last election, half of what was expected.
Her poor parliamentary showing was seen as highlighting a growing voter backlash nationally against grandiose projects that neglected development issues.
"In this election, a section of Mayawati's voters did complain that their villages did not have water, roads, but only had her statues," said Sudha Pai, professor at the Centre for Political Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The Congress party-led coalition won 262 parliamentary seats, just 10 short of a majority in the 545-member lower house of parliament, riding on pro-farmer policies and development.
India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has also criticised Mayawati, saying it was "shameful" to waste money on statues.
On her 52nd birthday last year, Mayawati's party workers decked out Lucknow, with hundreds of thousands of lights, while Mayawati greeted supporters with an expensive diamond necklace and matching earrings.
One of nine children, Mayawati managed to study law and become a teacher through a government quota scheme for Dalits.
She won the state election in 2007, and has inaugurated one of India's biggest highway projects.
Mayawati has also faced probes over her personal wealth and now could face questions from many of the 170 million lower-caste people she is trying to mobilise.
"Her hold over the dalits will not be eroded, but everything depends on how this case unfolds," said analyst Kuldip Nayar. "If the court exposes Mayawati, they will start questioning her."
(Writing and additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar)
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