Party of Poor Enters Race To Rule India

The Wall Street Journal

March 16, 2009

By Niraj Sheth and Peter Wonacott

NEW DELHI — Kumari Mayawati, one of India’s most influential politicians, said Sunday her Bahujan Samaj Party would run in upcoming national elections on its own rather than joining a larger alliance.

The announcement came as a surprise at a time when other political parties have vigorously courted her support.

The move offers Ms. Mayawati the chance to run as an alternative to the two main national parties. She didn’t rule out forging an alliance after the month-long national elections, set to begin April 16. "Our party will fight the parliamentary elections by itself," she said, speaking in Hindi to reporters.

Ms. Mayawati, currently chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is one of the country’s top leaders from a low-caste background. She has gained prominence over the past decade as a voice for the poor and disenfranchised, though she has become wealthy and powerful.

In recent years, she has attempted to broaden her party’s appeal by recruiting politicians from diverse ethnic groups and from all rungs of the Hindu caste ladder, but has enjoyed little success beyond her home state. Still, the expanding reach of the BSP has clouded India’s election picture, giving rise to smaller parties.

In addition to the left-of-center Indian National Congress and the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party, a so-called Third Front of leftist and mostly smaller regional parties is vying to control Parliament and select India’s next prime minister.

Ms. Mayawati has made no secret of her ambition to become India’s first prime minister who is a Dalit, derisively known as an untouchable. On Sunday evening, she was hosting a dinner party for politicians of the Third Front, but no announcement on an alliance was expected to come from the dinner.

During her news conference, Ms. Mayawati, known as the Dalit Queen, unveiled a populist platform aimed at rural and poor voters hit by India’s economic slowdown.




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