The four challenges Mayawati has thrown at us in Noida
R Jagannathan Oct 15, 2011
The inauguration of the Rs 685 crore, state-funded Rashtriya Dalit
Prerna Sthal in Noida by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on
Friday has been misread by almost all analysts.
The focus of the attacks on Mayawati have been on the size of
expenditure involved and use of state funds for a private political
project. But in Dalit politics, this is almost a non-issue. More
important is the symbolism and challenges it throws up for Indian
politics and society.
Mayawati has flung four challenges at us – and at herself – by
inaugurating her 84-acre memorial.
Challenge No 1 is her not-so-covert attempt to make neo-Buddhism a key
state project, overturning the general neutrality of the state in
The 84-acre Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden is not exactly a
religious shrine funded by the state – though there is a Buddha statue
and we heard lots of Buddhist chanting in Friday's ceremony – but the
84-acre Dalit heroes memorial and garden is reminiscent of kings of
yore building triumphant temples and mosques to mark their victories
As Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalit writer said at a TV show the other night,
the Sthal is Mayawati's attempt to challenge the Hindu caste system
and ethos pervading Uttar Pradesh (Ayodhya, Kashi, Varanasi) and paint
it in Buddhist hue.
Challenge No 2 is the clear political goal of Mayawati: Delhi next. Of
course, she still has the Uttar Pradesh elections to win next year,
but the key to that election lies in raising Dalit sights further,
since her performance in the state has – at best – been patchy.
Raising the stakes helps her flock focus on bigger things instead of
the non-delivery of any significant improvement in their lives.
Anything Mayawati does is done kingsize. Naresh Sharma
The symbolism of the Sthal is also in its location. Noida overlooks
Delhi and is part of the National Capital Region. The location of the
Ambedkar park here is indication of Mayawati's way of saying: "My eyes
are on Delhi."
The Sthal, which hosts 15 statues of Dalit icons BR Ambedkar, Jyotirao
Phule and Kanshi Ram apart from Mayawati herself, is a symbol of the
Dalit challenge to the current caste dispensation.
Mayawati's speeches also reflected the same aggression. She castigated
Sonia Gandhi for refusing to help her with her CBI cases. She
pre-empted the possibility of the Congress placing a Dalit like Meira
Kumar in the top job just to fools Dalits. She blasted LK Advani for
not starting his anti-corruption yatra in Karnataka, scene of a major
illegal mining scam.
Challenge No 3 is shock and awe. Anything Mayawati does is done
kingsize. She makes no bones about the size of her birthday cake. She
wants expensive cars in her cavalcade. And she is brazen about her use
of state funds for party and private purposes – as the erection of 20
statues of her party's election symbol – the elephant – in Noida and
other Ambedkar parks in Uttar Pradesh suggest.
If any other party had done the same thing, there would have been a
hue and cry. Sure, parties opposing Mayawati have indeed kicked up a
fuss about it. But this is precisely what she wants. When everyone
attacks her, the Dalits have no option but to support her.
For Narendra Modi in Gujarat, the more the opposition attacks him
personally, the more he consolidates his Hindu vote. This is what Maya
is counting on with the Dalit vote, in which Rahul Gandhi is trying to
make a dent.
By doing things of huge scale, she is also trying to overawe her Dalit
vote and project power – which may go down well with the powerless. To
the disempowered Dalit, the fact that Mayawati can cock a snook at her
detractors among the upper castes is a matter of pride, not regret.
Challenge No 4 is her political caste combo. The Mayawati coalition is
the exact inverse of the Congress coalition before the Babri-Ram
Janmabhoomi agitation. The old Congress had the upper castes leading a
Dalit and minority combo. Mayawati is going for the same combo with
the Dalit on top and Brahmins playing second fiddle in Uttar Pradesh.
The hard act to follow is how she is going to attract the Muslim vote
– or even retain the Brahmin and upper caste vote. The Buddha's main
focus of attack was a Brahminical system gone berserk in his time. But
the overt return to the Buddha through Ambedkarite neo-Buddhism is not
going to be easy to pull off in her current coalition. Neither
Brahmins nor Muslims will be comfortable with this assertion.
But she is trying nevertheless.
In a few months time we will know if her strategy works. But no one
can accuse her of pusillanimity.
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