A top Indian politician lashed out at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday, saying he is either insane or being used as a tool of her opponents for releasing U.S. Embassy cables that describe her as a corrupt megalomaniac.
An October 2008 cable called Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, a powerful leader of the nation's bottom caste untouchables, a 'virtual paranoid dictator' who once sent a private jet to Mumbai to pick up a new pair of sandals.
The cable said Mayawati had institutionalized corruption throughout India's most populous state, charged potential candidates $250,000 to run for Parliament on her party's ticket and was obsessed with becoming prime minister. Similar allegations have been often been made by her political opponents too, but she has consistently denied them.
Mayawati told reporters the Wikileaks accusations were "malicious, incorrect and obscene."
"From this it appears that the owner of WikiLeaks has either gone mad or else this person has played into the hands of parties who oppose us and deliberately want to tarnish the image of our party and government," said Mayawati, who uses only one name.
She called for Assange to be sent to a mental asylum either in his home country of Australia or in Uttar Pradesh, and called news reports about the cables as 'dirty politics' and an attempt to besmirch India's untouchables, or dalits.
Assange responded quickly and equally sharply.
In a statement broadcast by at least two Indian news channels, he said Mayawati should "admit her error and apologize. Should she fail to do so, she is welcome to send her private jet to England to collect me, where I have been detained against my will, under house arrest, for the last 272 days.'"
"I would be happy to accept asylum, political asylum, in India _ a nation I love. In return, I will bring Mayawati a range of the finest British footwear," NDTV reported him as saying.
Mayawati has been criticized for excessive displays of wealth and power in a state rife with poverty. Last year, she was photographed inside a gargantuan garland made of 1,000 rupee ($22) notes estimated to total more than $1 million. She has also spent millions on statues of herself and other dalit heroes, while the roads and health infrastructure of the state lie in tatters.
The U.S. Embassy cable painted her as a cosseted megalomaniac.
It quoted local journalists as saying that Mayawati employed nine cooks and two food tasters. She demanded personal security equivalent to a head of state and had a private road built between her home and office that was cleaned every time her extensive motorcade used it.
She once forced a state minister to do sit-ups in front of her as punishment for arriving without an appointment, the cable quoted the journalists as saying.
A separate cable said her chief of staff told U.S. officials that she had a "penchant for personal corruption and strong authoritarian streak."
In condemning the cables, Mayawati seemed unaware they were written by U.S. diplomats, instead assigning the blame for them directly to Assange, as well as to her rivals in the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of several parties challenging her rule in elections next year.
In denying the report she sent a jet to fetch sandals: "Maybe if this BJP leader knows about my sandals then he must have accompanied the owner of WikiLeaks to go in the special plane and buy me my sandals."
The U.S. cable did not say where the allegations about the sandals came from.
Mayawati also denied she employed nine cooks. "I feel that maybe they're (opponents) cleaning dishes in my kitchen and that's how they know this."
The cables also said Mayawati had cowed the press; many reporters thought their phones were tapped and feared losing their jobs if they were critical of her rule. She rarely addressed the media, the cables said, and when she did, she did not take questions, a practice she continued during Tuesday's press conference.
In his response, Assange said: "there is no question that the documents are official papers from the U.S. embassy. The allegations within them are made by U.S. diplomats in their private communications back to Hillary Clinton. If chief minister Mayawati has a problem with the contents of these communications, she needs to take it up with Hillary."
Follow Ravi Nessman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ravinessman