Kumari Mayawati, the incumbent chief minister of India's most populous and politically significant state Uttar Pradesh, has many firsts to her credit.
Besides being the state's first chief minister from the community of Dalits (former untouchables) and the youngest ever to occupy the seat when she was first elected the chief minister at the age of 39, she is perhaps the only living Indian politician who has built gigantic statues in her own honour.
Many among India's downtrodden lower castes see her an aspirational figure. Others pour scorn over her wasteful ways.
But despite the divided opinion about Mayawati, none disputes her political importance.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which she co-founded along with her mentor Kanshi Ram, is now a major player in Uttar Pradesh. A good showing in the elections under way could multiply her clout and get her closer to her cherished goal of becoming India's prime minister some day.
Mayawati rarely speaks to the media. But she agreed to talk to Al Jazeera's Anmol Saxena on a range of issues concerning the state elections.
Question: Why should the UP voter vote for you again?
Mayawati: They will vote for me because we have fulfilled the promises that we had made. During 2007 elections, people voted for us in the hope that we will get rid of goondaraj (criminal rule), as the criminals of Samajwadi Party had made life difficult for the people of this state. For the last five years we have changed that. We have given a government where people feel safe and the criminals are scared.
Dalits (former untouchables) voted for us and we gave them a life of dignity. I always say, bahujan samaj is for "sarv jan hitaay" (welfare of all).
Question: Is that why you have fielded maximum number of Muslim candidates this time trying to enlist their support?
Mayawati: Muslims form more than 18 per cent of Uttar Pradesh and they need the kind of representation which I have given. My detractors may say whatever they like, but I am committed to give Muslims their due.
Both Congress party and Samajwadi Party have exploited Muslims and they never bothered about their development. Sachhar committee report shows that Muslims remain backward and exploited, as a result our government started and implemented many welfare schemes.
When I appealed to Brahmins for supporting BSP in the last election, we were trying to achieve inclusive growth. Brahmins were exploited by the BJP and Congress alike.
Question: But Rahul Gandhi says "haathi paise khaata hai" [Elephant [BSP symbol] is corrupt]?
Mayawati: The people of the country know the real "hand" [Congress Party symbol] behind the rampant loot of public money. The scams at the centre [federal government] have revealed how the ruling party has been involved in such massive levels of corruption. Rahul Gandhi thinks people of Uttar Pradesh are fools and beggars.
In any case he is not interested in Uttar Pradesh, he is running around to do the ground work for 2014 general elections. Congress Party has no leadership in the state.
Question: Who do you consider your chief opponent in this election?
Mayawati: In different areas of Uttar Pradesh, different parties are fighting BSP. People know that Samajwadi Party will bring back goondaraj. Congress has no vision for UP, they want to milk UP for those 80 parliamentary seats.
For the Gandhi family, UP elections has always been a big picnic. Brother-sister-mother, and now even brother-in-law, comes for outings, sometimes with foreign friends.
Both the so-called national parties - Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] have run out of ideas for Uttar Pradesh and trying to import their leaders from another state (taking a dig at BJP leader Uma Bharti and Congress’ Digvijaya Singh).
Question: Poll analysts are foreboding a hung assembly with no clear winners, and speculations are rife about all sorts of post-poll alliances.
Mayawati: In 2007 also people were predicting a hung assembly, but we got the majority figure on our own. This time also the same will happen. Though there is an unannounced pre-poll alliance between BJP, Samajwadi and the Congress with one common programme - destabilise Uttar Pradesh - for their own political gains.
We have given stability to Uttar Pradesh, they want to destabilise the state. Stability is foremost pre-requisite for development and rule of law is the other one. Both of them have been ensured by our government.
Follow Anmol Saxena on Twitter: @bolanmol
Source: Al Jazeera