Saturday, October 29, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Statue Park Maya's desperate bid to woo the Dalits (Dipankar Gupta)

Dipankar Gupta New Delhi, October 26, 2011 | UPDATED 11:58 IST
Statue Park Maya's desperate bid to woo the Dalits

In Hindu Vedantic tradition, Maya is illusion; Maya is the futility of
worldly possessions; Maya is transitory. But Mayawati, the Chief
Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), is none of the above. She is rich,
real, and tough; and now she is also cast in bronze.

But does she have the political smarts? Or is she a single minded
egotist lucky to be at the right place at the right time? Or, is her
time running out? Does she not know that she is a much more divisive
and controversial figure now than what she was in 2007?

These questions resonate a lot more today especially as elections in
UP are round the corner. Given that, what sense did it make for her to
inaugurate the Dalit Park in Noida earlier this month? A walk in this
park is far from ordinary, but will displays of this kind help her win
the Chief Minister's position yet again?

Obviously, even her supporters must wonder why she had to splurge Rs.
685 crores on this extravaganza. It is equal to 32 per cent of the
state's education budget, 15 per cent of its agricultural budget and
roughly 14 per cent of the amount allocated for women and child
development. Why then did she do this? A death wish? Or a one shot
chance at survival?


Mayawati's electorate today is vastly different from what she faced in
2007. At that time, many saw in her an antidote to the Yadav swagger
that had grown and thrived during Mulayam Singh's rule. Dominant
agrarian communities, like Jats and Gujars, felt threatened by the way
Yadavs were flaunting their muscles and knuckles in rural UP.

The Yadav factor also worked to swing many urban Brahmans and
Merchants to Mayawati's side, though for different reasons. In their
reckoning, Yadavs got a lift in securing public sector jobs because
Mulayam Singh's government championed, and extended, Reservations to
Other Backward Classes (or, OBCs).

Further, during the 2007 campaign, Mayawati gave the impression that
she was willing to add to the Reserved quota the category of the poor,
regardless of their caste background. The urban communities saw this
as a sure fire way of winging the OBCs and retaining some of their
hold, especially in white collar occupations.

So from different ends, huge numbers, in both rural and urban UP, had
reason to wish Mayawati to power. The Yadavs clearly did not want her
in 2007 which is why in places where they dominate, like Mainpuri,
Firozabad, Etah and Kannauj, Mayawati did not fare well at all. There
is no reason either why Yadavs should change their minds this time

But Jats and Gujars of West UP, who voted for Mayawati in 2007, have
every reason to change their minds. Mayawati's land acquisition drive
has cut them deeply where it hurts the most. Much of this drama may
have happened in west UP, but its message was not lost in transit. All
across UP, it has chilled the spines of small owner proprietors and it
has certainly put their guard up against her.

The urban castes too are unhappy for Mayawati's assurance of a caste
blind Reservation has not progressed an inch during her five year long
tenure. They were just promises, promises. Very recently she made a
statement reaffirming her intention of going ahead with her
Reservation reforms, but nobody is taking her seriously this time.


If Mayawati were to now call off her statue erection spree it would
not endear her to the rural Jats or Gujars, or the urban castes. It is
too late for that. Their minds are already made up for reasons that
have little to do with Mayawati's bombast. Her best bet now is to wow
Dalits to such a pitch that, come election time, they think of nothing
else but salvaged pride.

Some commentators argue that when Mayawati brings on the bling, or
wears diamonds on her birthday, there are whoops of joy from her
admiring Dalit votaries. In their view, those who live in hovels
cannot admire another who also lives in one, no matter how public
spirited that person might be. Mayawati owns some of the best
properties in Delhi and she loves to display her addresses, if only to
upset the local elite. What counts most is to cock a snook at the
established classes, and if that takes distilled bad taste, so be it.

For many, Mayawati's excesses, from her personal lifestyle to her
egotistic projects, may look like a difficult bullet to dodge. But her
close supporters are quick on the offensive. They retaliate by
pointing to how corporate bigwigs and other political parties behave.
For example, Mukesh Ambani's home in Mumbai is valued at a billion US
dollars, about eight times the amount spent on the Dalit Park. Also
what about acres and acres of land on Yamuna's right bank in Delhi
dedicated to the memorials of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty?


But will statue making do the job? In 2007 she lost Dalit dominated
areas in Sitapur, Rae Bareilly and Bara Banki. She cannot afford that
luxury in 2012. True, she has created a cult around her and made some
people very sensitive to her mood swings. That assures her of loyal
sycophants, but what about the ordinary Dalit voters?

This is Mayawati's fourth stint as Chief Minister, albeit this being
the first time she has lasted the full term. Her political presence
over the years has not done her state much good. India is poor, but UP
is poorer. Its Infant Mortality Rate and poverty status are only
slightly better than Odisha, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. It is also
fourth from the bottom in terms of India's Human Development Index.

Mayawati had full five years this time, but UP's ranking remained
where it was when she started. This must definitely disappoint her
Dalit supporters, most of whom are not just poor, but on the margin of
survival. Identity claims are good if they bring better food, health
and education. On their own they lose steam quickly or, at best, stay
located among the elite of that community.

Yet, from the looks of it, Mayawati is chancing her future on
razzle-dazzle and not performance. This will probably be her undoing
in the next election.

- The writer is a former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University Dalits

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