Mayawati was a women born into one of India's lowest castes - or social groups - the Dalits. These people were once known as "untouchables". She became educated and became a government teacher. Her speeches at anti-caste rallies ensured she came to the attention of other political activists in the 1990s. Now, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati is one of the most influential politicians in the world’s largest democracy.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
"Mayawati demonstrated her political clout when she led a charge to topple India's Congress Party-led government in a no-confidence vote last Tuesday. Although the government survived the vote by a slim majority, Mayawati emerged at the helm of a new Indian opposition movement amid the political realignments that followed.
This "third front" in Indian politics will challenge both the Congress-led governing coalition and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the lead-up to India's next general election scheduled for May. Some analysts say the new grouping could give Mayawati the national profile she needs to pursue a long-held ambition to become India's first "untouchable" prime minister."
Continue to read this four-page article: "Turning Politics Upside Down"
From BBC News:
"The way a number of Indian opposition parties are rallying around Mayawati, a Dalit or "untouchable" icon, and touting her as a future prime minister must be gladdening the hearts of 160 million members of the community she represents.
Analysts say that Ms Mayawati is also trying to move beyond a purely caste-based agenda to enhance her appeal among upper-castes and classes - her government recently brought in English in primary schools and announced new urban housing and health plans."
From the International Herald Tribune:
"The advance of so-called low-caste, or Dalit, politicians like Mayawati has reshaped Indian politics for 20 years, although no one from her social rank has so shaken up the country's traditional political order. Dalits represent roughly 16 percent of the population and have traditionally been shunted to the lowest rungs of Indian society.
Mayawati leads the government of Uttar Pradesh, a sprawling northern state with a population of more than 160 million. Her admirers see the rise and reinvention of this unmarried outcaste woman of 52 as a triumph of India's democracy over its deeply conservative and stratified traditions.
Her detractors see her as a symbol of an increasingly crude and unprincipled politics. She is accused of being ostentatious and corrupt and of striking deals with anyone who will advance her political ambitions."
And another, more detailed story from the International Herald Tribune: "Indian women rises on votes that cross caste lines"
This story is worth watching to see how things pan out for this politician.