Monday, March 22, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Mayawati’s garland of note,%20BSP,%20Lalu%20Prasad,%20Nitish%20Kumar,%20Rahul%20Ga

Mayawati's garland of note

Aditya SinhaFirst Published : 20 Mar 2010 12:20:00 AM ISTLast Updated
: 20 Mar 2010 01:25:59 AM IST

The newspapers and the internet are swamped with speculation on the
value of the first garland of notes presented to Uttar Pradesh Chief
Minister Mayawati earlier this week. Her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
says it cost Rs 21 lakh; a Congress estimate stood at Rs 20 crore; and
an income tax estimate at Rs five crore. This column's guess is that
it is priceless. That's the kind of political mileage Mayawati got out
of it.

Regarding the mundane fact of the garland's market value, the BSP's
declaration is no less hypocritical than the kind of under-valuation
that regularly features in the affidavits that candidates submit to
the Election Commission about their wealth. One VIP opponent of
Mayawati, for instance, lists a 4-acre property in Mehrauli, Delhi, as
worth just under Rs 10 lakh, a valuation so ridiculously low that it
is surreal. Whatever its worth, many argue that it represents
ostentatious and unproductive expenditure (even though the BSP says it
bought the garland and not the state government). Again, such an
argument seems hypocritical when some VIPs choose to enjoy the good
times on vulgar yachts, littering the uninhabited beaches of the
Andaman and Nicobar archipelago with emptied beer bottles.

Then there is the good governance argument. The fact that Mayawati
spends her time constructing statues and elephants all over UP, and
the corruption and land-grab cases against the chief minister
(including the Taj Corridor scandal) are all shown as evidence of her
disdain for development. Firstly, this argument is irrelevant to the
fact that Mayawati wore a garland of notes at a rally. Wearing such a
garland is itself nothing new in India; it's just that earlier
garlands were modest constructions of ten-rupee notes in a fan-like
display, the entire thing costing no more than a few hundred rupees
(when Mayawati's garland first appeared on TV, it took me a while to
figure out what the massive velvety thing was that took seven men to
hold up while it framed the CM).

More importantly, though, the same argument was used against Lalu
Prasad when he ran Bihar: that he spent all his time and cunning on
political symbolism and less on development, which he famously
dismissed as a media/upper-caste concern. Lalu ultimately lost Bihar.
The first thing that current CM Nitish Kumar did was to fix law and
order. Doctors in Patna are now making house calls again, a practice
suspended during Lalu's reign because all doctors were being
kidnapped; people are walking the roads of Bihar after dark again.
This is what has made Nitish still the man to beat in the coming state
assembly elections, despite the niggling problems he is facing within
his party. In UP, the law and order was terrible when Mayawati took
over (it was a contributing factor to her election triumph), so it
could only improve; and she tasked her bureaucracy with tackling the
terrible power situation as soon as she took over. So this
good-garland-is-a-sign-of-bad-governance argument is a bit lame.

To understand this garland episode, you have to contrast it with
another political gimmick in UP: Rahul Gandhi visiting and spending
the night in Dalit homes. When he started this in the run-up to the
last Lok Sabha elections, you might remember that Mayawati was peeved:
she accused him of returning home and "bathing with soap and purifying
himself with incense" after spending the night at a Dalit home. Her
reaction meant the gimmick had worked. And of course, Rahul Gandhi
pulled off a sensational win in a huge chunk of UP seats, which helped
his party retain power. Perhaps Mayawati was still puzzling over how
to retaliate; she was perhaps taking her time over it because the UP
assembly elections are still two years away. But events the previous
week may have goaded her into action, after Congress chief Sonia
Gandhi pushed the Women's Reservation Bill through the Rajya Sabha.

Of all her opponents, Mayawati is most wary of the dynasty. Mulayam
Singh is still trying to return his Samajwadi Party back to its roots
after jettisoning Amar Singh; Nitin Gadkari is clearly following the
RSS formula for building Varun Gandhi as the BJP's future in UP, but
that process will take its time. The only real threats are Sonia and
Rahul, and so Mayawati reacted in the way she knew best. She showed
off the kind of power and influence and wealth that a Dalit woman
could hope to wield in the 21st century, symbolised by an
unimaginably-over-the-top garland of notes.

The difference between Rahul's gimmick and Mayawati's gimmick is that
Rahul showed his sincere empathy for Dalits; he made a genuine effort
to come down to our level, a Dalit voter might have thought. Mayawati
on the other hand showed her pride; she through her own efforts rose
to their level and does what she wants without giving a damn, a Dalit
voter might think. The BSP's defiance of other parties by garlanding
Mayawati a second time was confirmation of this pride, for defiance is
just a manifestation of pride. The BSP would have gauged how the whole
garland episode went down with its core support base.

Now, no matter how many huts Rahul visits, to the Dalits he's still
"one of them", while Mayawati is "one of us". The Women's Reservation
Bill? I wonder how many Dalit women will now choose Sonia over
Mayawati; the imagery of women congratulating Sonia has been rapidly
replaced in the Dalit memory by Mayawati and her garland. The Congress
will have to recalibrate its coalition-building in UP, and if Mayawati
continues to make the Dalit option difficult, then the only choice
before the Congress will be to ensure that Muslim voters don't go to
Mulayam (who's already wooing them by casting the Women's Reservation
Bill as inimical to Muslim interests, arguably a dubious proposition).
Expect Rahul to go visiting Azamgarh soon, a trip he postponed for
fear that opponents would brand him as soft on terrorists. Now he has
no choice.

Of course, it bothers a lot of intellectuals (and other upper caste
folk) that Mayawati's gimmicks are so in-your-face. Yet that is true
of most Dalit activists and thinkers. Take Andhra Pradesh intellectual
Kancha Illaiah: a recent review in Outlook of his latest book
Post-Hindu India (by Ajoy Bose, Mayawati's biographer) squirmed at
Illaiah's call for an all-out civil war by Dalits on Hindu society.
Yet Illaiah has always been combative, feisty, uncompromising; it
makes the upper castes very uncomfortable and they wonder why he has
to be so aggressive. No wonder they don't get the real significance of
Mayawati's garland.

About The Author;

Aditya Sinha is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The New Indian Express' and
is based in Chennai


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