Tuesday, March 23, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Out Of Proportion (Opinion)



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Out Of Proportion
Dileep Padgaonkar, Mar 24, 2010, 12.00am IST

Political correctness has now reached such depths of degeneration in
our liberal opinion that we no longer dare to call a spade a spade,
let alone a bloody shovel. A recent example is the criticism of
Mayawati for flaunting her diamonds and garlands of currency notes at
BSP rallies. It took little or no account of her dogged belief that as
a Dalit she is entitled to exercise that privilege.

This belief, her apologists argue, explains, indeed justifies, her
utter indifference to what the 'elites' in the media and the rest of
the political establishment think about such outrageous displays of
wealth. The thought that she might have accumulated it through
illegitimate means does not make them lose their sleep either. After
centuries of oppression, runs their dirge, the trespasses of Dalits
need to be overlooked.

Some apologists go further than that. Mayawati's most lethal weapon,
they claim, is her candour. Unlike other leaders in our public life,
she makes no bones about her greed for money and lust for power. She
does things in broad daylight what others do only after dusk. And she
says aloud what others mutter beneath their breath. She might be
guilty of this or the other misdemeanour. But no one can accuse her of
double-speak and double-think.

Arguments of this nature are flawed on two counts. They are
patronising at best and, at worst, rooted in mawkish cynicism. To say
that Mayawati's 'core constituency' isn't bothered about its leader's
shenanigans is to suggest that the Dalits are bereft of a moral sense.
Such a view is offensive in the extreme. The main reason why bahujan
samaj leaders of the past Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj,
Ramaswamy Naickerand, B R Ambedkar are revered by all sections of
society today is precisely because their comportment, in private as in
public, was above reproach. Even while they berated the upper castes
for their deep-seated prejudices against those at the bottom of the
social pecking order, they drew their strength from universally
accepted notions of equality and justice.

Not once did they suggest, late alone assert, that as victims of caste
oppression for several millennia, Dalits should be permitted to
observe a lax moral regimen. What is good for the Brahmin must be good
for the Dalit. They would have been appalled to hear that Mayawati's
greed must be condoned because of her community's sense of victimhood.

Nor would they have shared Mayawati's antipathy for the 'elites'. In
their own time, they were at the receiving end of Brahmins who held
sway in public life, including the press. But they fought the critics
armed with knowledge and reason and, above all, with a heightened
sense of moral purpose. Ambedkar's critique of Gandhism was often
acerbic. What lent it levity was his closely argued stand that the
Mahatma chose not to attack the roots of social evils in the country:
the varna system.

Our political establishment has strayed far away from this path. But
the one who takes the cake for vagrancy is Mayawati. Her only service
to her icon is the erection of his kitschy statues across the length
and breadth of Uttar Pradesh along with those of her mentor Kanshi
Ram. She has cast herself in stone as well. To claim, as her
apologists do, that her Dalit flock applauds this megalomania is to
have a poor opinion of their intelligence.

Moreover, to hail Mayawati for her candour is to forgive the sins of
every demagogue in the land. The Thackerays, too, are candid. And so
are Narendra Modi, Praveen Togadia and an assortment of maulvis. All
of them nurse a sense of victimhood. All see conspiracies assailing
them from all sides. All indulge in venomous rhetoric. And all manage
to hoodwink their 'core constituency' again and again.

Yet this 'core constituency' is not frozen in time. It yearns for
security, education, jobs and speedy justice. Sooner than later it has
to repudiate the demagogues who are tall on promise and short on
delivery. To assume that they will tolerate the megalomania of their
leaders for all times to come is to hold them in contempt. Mayawati
only succeeds in strengthening the vilest upper-caste prejudices about
the parvenu Dalit.

The pity of it all is that her provocative speeches and gestures take
attention away from her genuine leadership qualities. The former prime
minister, P V Narasimha Rao, had once described her as a 'miracle of
democracy'. Her grit and perseverance have enabled her to brave the
heaviest of odds in our caste-ridden and male-centred polity. Time and
again she has outwitted her political foes with her shrewd
understanding of social forces. Few politicians in the country can
match her talents for social engineering.

By embarking on a confrontationist path, she may well succeed in
consolidating her support base among Dalits. At the same time,
however, she is bound to alienate other sections of society. Her
talents at social engineering would then come under intolerable
strain. At present she is caught in a cleft-stick. She needs to
revisit Ambedkar's teachings. He will have a thing or two to tell her
about what it takes to prevail.

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