Dalits are with BJP; Mayawati saw them only as vote bank: Baby Rani Maurya

Dalits are with BJP; Mayawati saw them only as vote bank: Baby Rani Maurya
From being an ordinary karyakarta of the BJP in the early 1990s, Baby Rani Maurya became the first woman mayor of Agra in 1995. Known as the Dalit face of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, she played a key role in strengthening the party’s outreach among Scheduled Castes in UP. The 65-year-old served in the National Commission for Women from 2002 to 2005 and was the governor of Uttarakhand from 2018 to 2021. She returned to active politics ahead of the UP assembly elections and won from the Agra rural seat. In an interview with Prerna Katiyar, Maurya, who is the new women and child development minister of the state, says the BJP cares for Dalits who voted for the party in large numbers. Edited excerpts:

The recent UP elections saw Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi Vadra fighting on the ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ plank. How did you see this sloganeering as a woman?

I feel no girl needs to say ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’. Every girl is a shakti (divine energy) in herself. She has so much power that whatever she decides, she can achieve by her own determination. Where is the need for making such statements? I feel perhaps Gandhi Vadra was low on manobal (morale) and that is why she made such statements. Women are born with so many qualities. But we never say that since I am a woman my work is to fight. I have been a mayor, governor and a member of the National Commission for Women. However, that does that mean my work is only to fight.

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Mayawati formed a full-fledged government in 2007. Since then her graph has come down. She was seen as the messiah of Dalits. Has she done enough for the community?

Mayawati has not met the expectations of Dalits. They had very high hopes of her. They had hoped that, as chief minister, she would take steps to uplift their status socially and financially. But she considered Dalits merely as her vote bank and used them for her personal benefit. Neither did she build any hospital or educational institution nor did she open any training centre for them or the people in general. As a result, Dalits were soon standing on a do-raha (crossroads) looking for better options. Soon they chose BJP that understands how Mayawati wronged them. We took them along and did everything possible for their betterment. Dalits are now with us and you must have seen how the community, especially the Jatavs, voted for the BJP in these polls as well.

But some feel that the BJP is anti-Dalit in its ideology.

It is completely wrong to say that BJP is anti-Dalit. Take my example. They have given me such big responsibilities. I was a mayor (of Agra) and am now a cabinet minister. I am in a position to take all necessary steps for the benefit of Dalit children and women. The BJP is doing this and that is why Dalits have chosen BJP over BSP. We will do everything for the uplift of Dalits.

Do you feel there is a need for a separate ministry for the uplift of Dalits?

This will only take the Dalits backward. All our schemes are for Dalits as well. Won’t the children of Dalits benefit from schools built by the government? Won’t Dalit families benefit from hospitals? Won’t they use the same roads built by the government? By this (seeing them as a vote bank), Mayawati pushed Dalits back by many, many years. I want to see Dalits as part of the mukhyadhara (mainstream). Dalits ought to see themselves as no less equal and as part of Hindu dharma.

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Talking about representation of Dalits, they form only 8% of cabinet ministers while they are 21% of the population. Has the government done enough?

We should wait for some time before arriving at any conclusion. Their role will only increase with time. The cabinet has just been formed. There are many in the cabinet like Asim Arunji and Gulab Deviji. The BJP takes every decision very prudently and keeping in mind the benefits of Dalits. Our representation may be low but the programmes for their uplift will go on without any break.

What is your vision for the welfare of women and child development for the next five years?

I want to examine the issues closely before making any statement but certainly I want to work towards improving the health of children. I want to improve the nutrition level of the diet given to schoolchildren. Similarly, I will ensure the empowerment of women. Naari Shakti Mission is important for Modiji. Financial independence of women is necessary. I will take steps towards it. They should be able to make their own

decisions and be part of the economy.

You are talking about women making their own decisions but even female elected members of local bodies in many places in UP do not have power in their hands. Their spouses call the shots. Will you do anything to change this?

Definitely, I want to end this pratha (custom). Whenever I visit a village I ensure that the woman who is elected should be at the function and not “Pradhan Pati”. Many times, they sit reluctantly with a long ghoonghat. I tell everyone clearly that people have elected the woman.

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How do you see the transition from being a governor to being part of active politics?

I have always wanted to serve the people. I am happy that the party has given me an active role to serve the people directly —especially for the welfare of women and children. This is something close to my heart.

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