As Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kumari Mayawati completes a year at the head of the State’s first majority government in 16 years, an intriguing question arises: by what yardstick is she best judged? For sheer political instinct, the Bahujan Samaj Party chief scores a perfect ten. On performance, she falls far short, with the focus on symbols rather than substance. In the summer of 2007, Ms Mayawati pulled off an improbable outright victory, riding on the back of an audacious vote combination of Dalits and sizable segments of other castes. A year on, she made a clean sweep of by-elections to two Lok Sabha and three Assembly constituencies. The performance embarrassed those in a hurry to write off Ms Mayawati — even as it drew attention to the sorry state of her rivals. The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party candidates lost their security deposits in four seats. The Samajwadi Party’s weakened position in U.P is underscored by its uncharacteristic attempt to forge a front with the Congress against the BSP supremo.

The 52-year-old Chief Minister’s political successes owe much to the boldness and freshness of approach she demonstrated in her 2007 campaign. If there was hope that she would carry the same qualities into government, the current evidence belies it. Ms Mayawati began her new innings, her fourth since she first took top office in June 1995, with characteristic disdain for norms. She chopped and changed posts, ordered mass transfers of IAS and IPS officers, went on a demolishing spree, and unveiled a series of statues, including one of herself. Her government has wantonly pulled down buildings and structures, including those constructed at exorbitant cost during her earlier stints as Chief Minister. On the other hand, the BSP in power is yet to fulfil a major promise of Ms Mayawati’s election campaign: to fight crime. The tabling of the Uttar Pradesh Control of Crime Bill, 2007 notwithstanding, law and order remains a serious concern in the State, with crimes against Dalits and women showing a surprising increase. According to the Dynamic Action Group, an NGO working in the State, there has been an average of two incidents of crimes against Dalits every day over the past year, with the police refusing to register many complaints. In a village near Mathura last month, a six-year old girl was hurled into a fire by forward caste men objecting to her walking on a road meant for their ‘exclusive’ use. Earlier, another Dalit girl was lynched in Itawah. Ms Mayawati’s electoral success will amount to little if her government cannot assure the physical safety of the oppressed folk who stood by her through thick and thin. This is the time for her to undertake a major course correction.