Monday, January 16, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Caste-ing aspersions (Opinion)

Caste-ing aspersions
The Indian Express Posted online: Tue Jan 17 2012, 04:03 hrs
When the EC ordered that statues of Mayawati and those of elephants,
erected across UP during her term as chief minister, be covered in
plastic, lest their polished resplendence unduly influence voters'
choices, the absurdity was staggering. Wastage of public money and
administrative effort on acres of plastic covering apart, the order
raised a debate on what may be triggers for coded influence, what may
be the lengths we should go to counter them, and what could be the
limits on the model code of conduct. The elephant is the election
symbol of Mayawati's BSP, but the order is strikingly over-the-top.
And being at the heart of the controversy she was in a good position
to enrich the debate with nuance. Instead, she has reflexively
attacked the EC by imputing casteist motives, saying that if it does
not order a similar covering of symbols associated with the Congress
and the RLD, it could be taken to be "anti-Dalit".

This is an outrageous suggestion, and Mayawati, as the UP CM and an
immensely influential leader of a political party, has to be aware of
the recklessness of such attacks. The EC has been vital to this
country's democratic processes — it gives elections a stamp of
credibility by ensuring fairness in polling and campaign, and also by
using its powers over the administration in an election-bound area to
curb coercion and undue social and political influence. By helping to
ensure a vote without fear or favour, the EC has given hitherto
marginalised groups a solid stake in elections and, by extension,
governance. Mayawati is one of the icons of this democratic
inclusiveness — and by venting her rage as she has done, she courts
the danger of not only drawing the commission into an unseemly
crossfire, but also of undermining an institution that has been
crucial to the deepening of Indian democracy.

The insincerity of using the blunt charge of casteism where a more
engaged debate is called for undermines Mayawati's politics too. She
is an exemplar of the modernising potential of Indian democracy — her
politics integrated socially oppressed groups into the mainstream,
it's given them dignity, and by then taking the socially
confrontational edge off her rhetoric, she has opened her platform, in
a bottom-up pyramid, to all other sections of society. UP's parties
appear to be caught in a frenetic search for caste-and-community
arithmetic at the moment. But as the politician who truly levelled
existing and notional hierarchies, at least in electoral politics,
Mayawati must know that she does not have the luxury of returning to
an older politics of anxiety simply to satisfy her short-term


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