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The great Dalit hope

Mayawati, political queen of the untouchables, could become her country's next prime minister. But what does her unlikely rise tell us about the new India?

By Meghnad Desai   May 2009

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When the first female head of India’s largest state celebrates a birthday, you wouldn’t expect an intimate private event. But when Kumari Mayawati celebrated her 53rd birthday in January the party became what Indians call a big political tamasha. Admirers brought presents, most often bundles of cash, because the birthday girl had announced a gift target of 120m rupees (£1.6m). In theory this was for party coffers, not herself, with each of 400 local branches aiming at 300,000 rupees (£4,000) each. Her followers were happy to oblige. Mayawati is not just leader…

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