Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Indian Dalit icon Mayawati attacked over rupee garland

Mayawati at the Lucknow rally with the rupee garland
Ms Mayawati needed several people to help her lift the garland

Controversial Chief Minister of India's Uttar Pradesh state, Mayawati, has been criticised for accepting a huge garland made entirely of 1,000-rupee notes.

Ms Mayawati's supporters gave her the garland as a gift at her Bahujan Samaj Party's silver jubilee rally on Monday.

It is made of new 1,000-rupee notes and is estimated to have cost anywhere between $400,000 and $2m.

Ms Mayawati, who champions the cause of the poorest of the poor, is criticised for amassing vast personal wealth.

She is India's first woman Dalit (formerly "untouchable") chief minister and has a huge following among those at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.

Calls for inquiry

Photographs of Ms Mayawati, wearing the rupee garland, appeared on the front pages of Indian newspapers on Tuesday morning.

The issue was also raised in parliament, with MPs from different parties criticising what they said was a vulgar display by Ms Mayawati.

"We appeal to the government to take cognisance of the money that is being spent, or rather, misspent in the rally. And millions' worth of the garland that she accepted should be inquired into," senior Congress party leader Digvijay Singh said.

A leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rajnath Singh, said: "I just want to say that state funds and resources have been misused in Uttar Pradesh in every form. And I want the government to take action in this case at the earliest."

It is estimated that nearly 400,000 supporters attended the rally in the Uttar Pradesh state capital, Lucknow, on Monday. The city was draped in blue (the colour of Ms Mayawati's party) for the celebration.

Statue spree

A former school teacher, Ms Mayawati is one of India's most colourful politicians. She has governed Uttar Pradesh and its 180 million people since state elections in 2007.

In the past few years, she has amassed massive personal wealth, developing a fondness for lavish birthday parties and diamond jewellery.

She has been taken to court for commissioning massive statues of past Dalit icons and herself at great public expense.

Ms Mayawati's critics accuse her of wasting precious government funds in one of India's most backward states.

Uttar Pradesh has soaring crime, poor health services and very high illiteracy rates.

Ms Mayawati appears unfazed by all the criticism and has spoken many times about her ambition to be prime minister of India.

Her party denied claims on Monday that state funds had helped pay for Monday's festivities, saying it had footed the bill.

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