Thursday, December 23, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Failing the Dalits again (Opinion)

Failing the Dalits again

Amulya Ganguli
First Published : 22 Dec 2010 11:32:00 PM IST
Last Updated : 23 Dec 2010 12:17:24 AM IST

Mayawati and Andimuthu Raja have done great disservice to their
community. Their success in their chosen profession of politics gave
them an ideal opportunity to act as role models for the Dalits,
especially when the community hasn't had too many inspirational
figures after B R Ambedkar's death. Jagjivan Ram was the only other
major figure among them in the 1960s and '70s. But he could not attain
Ambedkar's stature because he was overshadowed by towering
contemporaries in his party, the Congress.

Besides, he may have marginally damaged his own prospects by telling
Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, that the departure of the British would put
"Scheduled Castes at the mercy of the majority communities (and) that
they would miss British protection and British justice and would have
preferred that we (the British) should remain for another 10 years or
so". Nor did he burnish his own reputation by failing to file
income-tax returns for a decade because of "forgetfulness". In the
end, he achieved his highest designation of being one of the two
deputy prime ministers not as a natural course, but at a time of
political turmoil following the Congress' defeat in 1977 for the first
time at the centre.

While Ambedkar's sons failed in their political ventures, Jagjivan
Ram's daughter, Meira Kumar, has risen to be the Lok Sabha speaker.
But for all the accolades she has earned for the firm and yet
courteous manner in which she presides over the House, she is not
exactly a shining star in the political firmament although she has
been mentioned as a possible chief ministerial candidate for Bihar.

In contrast, Mayawati has been the most upwardly mobile among
present-day politicians if Nitish Kumar is left out for the moment.It
was her remarkable success in the 2007 UP elections which made several
commentators place her on par with Barack Obama and even favour her
ascent to the prime minister's position. She also demonstrated her
political nimbleness — and a streak of opportunism — by dumping the
BSP's earlier provocative slogan of tilak, tarazu aur talwar, inko
maro jootey char (beat the Brahmins, Banias and Rajputs with shoes)
before the elections. Instead, she chose the placatory chant: hathi
nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai to claim that the BSP's
poll symbol of the elephant represented the Hindi deity Ganesh and the
triumvirate in the Hindu pantheon. This appeal cutting across caste
lines paid handsome dividends.

But the BSP's single-party majority turned out to be a blight rather
than a blessing. Mayawati's decline can be said to have started from
that period. First, she began to suffer from the delusion that the
prime minister's position was within her grasp, a fanciful idea which
was boosted when Prakash Karat began to court her as a leader of the
amorphous Third Front after the Left withdrew support from the
Manmohan Singh government. The notion gained such currency that her
supporters in UP began preparations to travel to  Delhi as the date of
the parliamentary debate on the nuclear deal drew near since it was
supposed to lead to the government's fall. The same possibility has
recently been mentioned for Nitish Kumar also, but he has been
realistic enough to declare that he will focus only on Bihar for the

Secondly, even as Mayawati's prime ministerial ambition was blasted,
her penchant for building statues of herself and of other Dalit icons
made her an object of ridicule by all except her ardent followers.
That was when she started to let down the Dalits — and the state. As
Nitish Kumar has shown, a leader's stature is enhanced not by the
number of statues he or she erects, but by the number of schools that
is set up and the number of anti-socials who are jailed. Instead,
Mayawati spent so much on the statues that the state government had no
money for the victims of a stampede in a temple which claimed 60
lives. That was the event which turned the earlier ridicule she faced
to shame. But no one has brought greater shame to Dalits than the
former telecom minister Raja.

If Mayawati could have made a name for herself and ensured electoral
success in the foreseeable future by diverting the crores spent on
statues to schools, hospitals, roads, power and drinking water, Raja
could have used his position as a Union minister to consolidate and
advance India's telecommunications revolution. Instead, his name has
become linked for all time to come with the country's biggest scam,
whose quantum — `1.76 lakh crores — boggles the mind.

Mayawati's mentor, Kanshi Ram, believed that the social emancipation
of the Dalits would follow the attainment of political clout. He did
not live to enjoy the kind of power which his disciple as well as Raja
attained. But in an extraordinary display of short-sightedness, these
two saw power as a means to self-publicity and self-aggrandisement
rather than as an opportunity to serve the people. Mayawati and Raja
are not the only ones, of course, to make this mistake. Before them,
Lalu Yadav was guilty of the same error. He also believed, rightly,
that much of the social divisions would go, at least in public, once
the OBCs acquired power. But just as he did not realise that power
entails responsibility, as Nitish Kumar has done, Mayawati, too, saw
power as an end-in-itself and not something which has to be used to
improve the lives of ordinary people. Perhaps leaders like her believe
that the centuries of deprivation have inured the Dalits to a life of
destitution and that all that they expect now is a measure of
self-respect and nothing else.

There may also be a latent fear that since development benefits all, a
rise in living standards, along with education, will begin the process
of eroding social divisions, leaving leaders like her who depend on
such barriers without an electoral plank. That even after coining her
new slogan of hathi nahin Ganesh hai, Mayawati was not averse to
playing the caste card was evident from her charge that Rahul Gandhi
washed himself with a "special soap" after spending time with the

The Mandal report providing employment quotas to the OBCs in addition
to the existing reservations for the Dalits and Adivasis paved the way
for the parties of these communities to become important political
players in the last two decades.

But notwithstanding their new prominence, none of the parties has
produced any leader who shows any potential to acquire lasting fame
for a notable achievement in the political field, except for Nitish
Kumar although his has been a recent development. Political
empowerment can increase the numbers of those belonging to the creamy
layer, but it is not a sufficient condition to improve the calibre of

About the author:

 Amulya Ganguli is

a Delhi-based

political commentator


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