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(Date of Birth: 15 January, 1956)
One of the many colorful characters in Indian politics, Mayawati Kumari is leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party and a prominent politician in India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh.
Born in 1956 to a minor government official Prabhu Das and his wife Ram Rathi, Mayawati has been in active politics for well over two decades.
Mayawati belongs to the Dalit community, the former untouchables in the Hindu caste hierarchy. She is a Jatav (Chamar), a sub-caste within Dalits.
Well educated, Mayawati holds multiple degrees including a B.A., a degree in education and a law degree. She worked as a teacher in Delhi for several years.
Prior to her entry into the political arena, Mayawati was keen on becoming an IAS officer, a coveted position in the Indian bureaucracy.
The 51-year politician is unmarried and often referred to by her supporters as Bahenji (sister).
Along the way, Mayawati has shed her oily plaits for short bobbed hair and diamonds.
A pugnacious personality, Mayawati owes her political career to her mentor Kanshi Ram, the founder of the BSP.
The BSP's political support base comes primarily from the lower castes and classes, who constitute the majority of Uttar Pradesh, a very backward state in North India.
Mayawati's first key elected office was as a member of the Lok Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) in 1989. She was elected to the Lok Sabha two more times later.
Mayawati was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh thrice. On the first occasion, she was Chief Minister from 3 June 1995 - 18 October 1995. When she became Chief Minister, Mayawati was the first Dalit woman to hold that high office in India.
Her second stint as Chief Minister from (21 March 1997 - 20 September 1997) came when her party joined hands with the Hindu nationalist party BJP. But that stint as Chief Minister was also shortlived.
Her third stint as Chief Minister was a little longer - from 3 May 2002-29 August 2003.
Mayawati's principal opponent in Uttar Pradesh politics is Mulayam Singh Yadav, the leader of the Samajwadi Party.
Where political institutions are weak, politics in Indian states like Uttar Pradesh tend to be highly personalized.
So it was no surprise that in 2003 Mayawati's government filed 140 cases filed against Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, in over 40 districts of the State charging Yadav with misuse of the Chief Minister's Discretionary Fund when he headed the government between September 1995 to May 1996.
Mayawati's brand of politics has attracted attention of political observers far and wide.
In an article in the New York Times, Amy Waldman wrote in 2003: "In a state where Dalits are nearly one quarter of the population, Ms. Mayawati has used caste as a mobilizer, building on a social and political revolution 50 years in the making. It is a phenomenon that has reshaped the politics of India."
Despite a long political career, Mayawati has few solid achievements to her credit.
Many of the Uttar Pradesh's 175 million people continue to languish in abject poverty, despite the so-called empowerment of the lower castes.
Like most Indian politicians, Mayawati's reputation has been tarnished by serious charges of corruption.
Mayawati's BSP put in a strong performance in the April/May 2007 Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections catapulting her back into power.
The Bahujan Samaj Party won 206 seats, trouncing the Samajwadi Party, BJP and the Congress.
In a shrewd move aimed at expanding the BSP's base beyond the lower castes, Mayawati alloted more election tickets to Brahmins and Muslims than ever before. Her gameplan worked and the BSP was swept into power.
Mayawati was sworn in as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on 13 May, 2007.
Mayawati as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
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Uttar Pradesh 2007 Assembly Election Results
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