She represents the best and worst of the messy behemoth that is Indian democracy. A dalit, or member of India's untouchable caste, from the serially conflict-ridden state of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati (known by the one name) is a fierce and pugnacious politico who commands the adulation of millions of underprivileged Indians. She rose through the ranks of the Bahujan Samaj, a rabble-rousing dalit party that at one time called for lower caste Indians to "beat down the upper castes with our shoes." But in recent years Mayawati has been smart enough to shed her sectarian politicking and forge alliances with other groups, including upper caste Brahmins. In this year's state elections, Bahujan Samaj fielded candidates from a wide spectrum of caste and religious backgrounds and swept aside both the establishment Congress Party and Hindu nationalist BJP, making her Chief Minister for a fourth time though now with a majority and a mandate she has never before possessed. Mayawati's career has been dogged by accusations of corruption, which hasn't been helped by her lavish lifestyle and affinity for expensive jewelry. But her latest victory epitomizes India's democratic triumph: that in a teeming, impoverished nation, even the most marginalized can find a voice and a place within its political system.
By Ishaan Tharoor