For the first time in 20 months ever since the formation of the BSP government Chief Minister Mayawati opened her doors to her party legislators to hear their problems personal or work-related.
The one-to-one meetings held on Thursday were a departure from tradition ¿ the legislators were allowed to talk about whatever they wanted and for as long as they wanted. The party chief listened and reacted and did not change the issue. She did not even mention her coming birthday.
The meetings left the legislators buoyed. I found her a changed Behanji who seemed keen to hear our problems. There was no fixed time limit for any MLA. Puri azadi thee apni bat kehne ke liye, said one of them.
In the past,Mayawati has always communicated with them through aides,senior party functionaries,and ministers. At the legislators meetings,usually she speaks and the others listen. If they are allowed to speak,they have to be brief. Within the party,this had led to murmurs that she is becoming inaccessible.
While there is no immediate challenge to Mayawatis leadership,it is essential to retain the legislators support,owing to the legislative council elections later this month and the Lok Sabha elections. Plus,the Opposition has upped their ante,planning a statewide protest against alleged extortions on her birthday.
The Chief Minister cant remain incommunicado with her own MLAs for long. The legislators were largely being handled by her officers. She had very little direct communication with them. It is a good beginning, said another legislator.
Mayawatis action comes soon after the Rajasthan episode in which all six of her party MLAs had supported the Congress government headed by Ashok Gehlot. Perhaps she has taken a lesson from the Rajasthan episode, a party leader said. The problem had erupted there as she had no direct contact with the MLAs. The crisis was resolved just by her speaking to the MLAs over the phone, he added. The meetings were scheduled division-wise. Legislators belonging to a particular division were invited to meet the chief minister one after another. And they had come prepared.
And they had even dressed for the occasion.
She does not like her legislators to look the typical politician in khadi kurta-pyjamas. So I wore a coat and trousers. Colleagues told me that she is very careful about the dress sense of her MLAs, a legislator said.
Another came away impressed with her sharp memory. She remembered the birth of my first child two years ago and talked about it.
Some of the legislators were apprehensive that they might be taken to task in view of the recent adverse media reports about them. But she did not mention the matter. One said he took the opportunity to explain his side of the story. Behenji just smiled and asked him not to worry,he reported.