| Mayavati in New York. (PTI)
Washington, June 5: She is India’s answer to “shock and awe”, the American tactic of bombing Iraq into submission.
In the run-up to the US attack on Iraq, Mayavati campaigned for a boycott of American goods. That was the “shock” part.
Then the Uttar Pradesh chief minister “awed” the Americans by visiting their country this week to seek US investment in her state even before the echoes of her boycott call died down.
But on her five-nation tour with a delegation of Uttar Pradesh officials, four family members and her mentor Kanshi Ram, Mayavati has chosen her locations to promote Uttar Pradesh very carefully.
During a short stay in Toronto, she and her team spent equal time visiting the Niagra Falls and wooing investors in the biggest city in Ontario province.
Then she became a pioneer among India’s visiting politicians to sell a state’s reform process to — of all places — Orlando, home to Walt Disney World.
Lest it be alleged by her critics that Mayavati and her delegation were drawn to Orlando, where Mickey Mouse mingles with hordes of tourists at this time of the year, a meeting was held with Universal Studios there in the hope of tying up the entertainment giant with Uttar Pradesh.
Notwithstanding the allowances made to sight-seeing during her delegation’s visit to North America, Mayavati was a big attraction among US entrepreneurs during the substantive part of her trip.
At the annual meeting of the US-India Business Council (USIBC) in New York this week, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister was a huge draw.
Not surprising, perhaps, since high school text books in at least one American state cites her contribution to the empowerment of the underprivileged in India.
At a reception to honour Mayavati at his residence here, Indian ambassador Lalit Mansingh extolled her as the symbol of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision.
Kapil Sibal, MP, who is leading a delegation of the Indo-US Parliamentary Forum, went a step further and said Ambedkar’s dream will not be fully realised until the Mayavati phenomenon is replicated elsewhere in India and the Dalits are empowered.
USIBC officials said that of three interactive “power breakfasts” organised as part of its annual conference, the one attended by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister drew the highest attendance — more than the ones on defence cooperation with India and financing industrial restructuring.
To be fair, Mayavati behaved with great dignity and poise despite her reputation, which preceded her to North America.
Appearing in most places in her trademark pink salwar kameez, the only discordant note was perhaps her propensity to put her feet on the sofa and her fondness for bathroom slippers.
But that was easily overlooked. After all, M.F. Husain, also from India, appears barefoot in public and godmen visiting the US are often in nothing more than a dhoti and a shawl.
Contrary to her reputation, Mayavati gave officials accompanying her due respect and let them answer questions on investment.
The only time Mayavati took matters in hand was when a question was asked about political stability in Uttar Pradesh.
She was in her element and came down heavily on Ajit Singh and his party, which has pulled out from the state’s ruling coalition.
Other parties threatening similar action can pull out too, she thundered. We have “more than a simple majority”, Mayavati asserted.
In all honesty, to the surprise of most people here, Uttar Pradesh’s presentation on investment to the Americans was slick. Far more slick than those from some of the states, which have a better reputation for economic reform and friendliness to business.
At the end of it all, Americans said the proof of the pudding is in the eating. They will wait to see if all that the Uttar Pradesh delegation said in support of investing in their state is true. But for now, at least they are watching and waiting.