Mayawati’s Mega Service To The Nation
By Anand Teltumbde
13 April, 2010
Every other move of Mayawati has shattered the sanitized sensibility of middle India and left it gasping for the expression. It invariably ended, “Oh, it is too much!” Whether it is her mega memorials or her rallies, her style evokes stunning responses of this kind. The point to ponder is whether, beyond her deliberately designed-for-Dalit demeanour, there is anything essentially novel or unique. The answer would be in definite negative. Mayawati is essentially the product of the system and she represents it in full measure albeit in her inimitable way. Insofar as it appears excessive, it only helps us to see the system in its naked form.
Last year, Mayawati was embroiled in the case of a murder of Public Works Department engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta, who was brutally lynched to death in Auraiya by a BSP MLA for not fulfilling the demand for contribution to Mayawati’s birth day fund. Embarrassed, she declared no collection of funds in future for her birth days. This year, it was not her own birth day but the 25th birthday of her party and 76th of her mentor Kanshiram. She pushed herself again into the eye of the storm over a mega rally organized for the occasion on March 15 at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Lucknow, estimated to have cost over Rs 200 crores.
The arrangements were simply on a mind boggling scale that would make even the most extravagant nawabs of Lucknow turn up into their graves in disbelief. She was likened by the Congress to Nero playing fiddle as the communal riot in Bareilly in the preceding week had yet not subsided. The usual bias of media overflowed painting her in bad light. What stunned them on the day of the rally however was the giant garland made up of currency notes of Rs. 1000 denomination presented to her on the stage. Considering its visible length and diameter even a matriculate student could estimate its value in the range of Rs. 10 to 20 crores, although for some strange reasons, the media and the Income Tax authorities reconciled it to much lower levels. Her close confidant and cabinet minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui expectedly declared that it was just Rs. 21 lakhs and that the money was collected by party functionaries in Lucknow.
The TV channels beamed the pictures with characteristic relish and sought to create revulsion in people by conducting motivated debate over it. They insinuated income tax investigation and possible action by the RBI for the misuse of currency notes. As the middle India’s indignation peaked, Mayawati responded in her characteristic style just the day after by publicly accepting another currency garland, this time of Rs. 18 lakh, from her party workers and approvingly smiled as they declared that she would be gifted with only currency garlands in future. It was reiterated that BSP collected its funds only through such small donations from ordinary people unlike other parties who did it from big industrialists.
The event provoked media to nervously reiterate its charges against Mayawati: her autocratic style and undemocratic behaviour; her hypocrisy in speaking for Dalits but living in a super-luxuriant style, her waste of public money over mega memorials, her corruption, and so on. The ruling Congress-spokesman endorsed these charges and claimed that she would pay for all these crimes. Indeed, there are some cases against her pending in the courts but they have utterly failed to scare her. The fact remains that instead of getting scared; she has been getting more and more defiant and raising the bar to a whole new level. Rather, with her outlandish acts, she is creating scare in the minds of others as they know that notwithstanding their scale, all those charges could very well stick to each of them.
Talking of Democracy and Hypocrisy
It is simply absurd to accuse some one in Indian politics of autocracy and undemocratic behaviour because our entire political culture has been undemocratic (leader-centric) and hypocritical. As the veteran politician in late Narsimha Rao candidly wrote in his memoires, our political culture has always been feudal at the core, where leader assumed all powers. There never existed intra party democracy in any party. This country proclaiming itself a republic, vesting sovereignty in its people, actually depicts worst kind of concentration of power in a supreme leader. Can there be bigger hypocrisy than this? It began right at the dawn of self-rule: Mahatma Gandhi, the supreme leader of the Congress chose Nehru to be the king and simply asked other contenders like Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad, to endorse his choice. Barring a few short preludes of some ones like Lal bahadur Shastri or Narsimha Rao becoming prime minister (albeit not for democratic reason), for a large part of history, India has been ruled by the Nehru dynasty thereafter. Congress set the political culture in the country which others have simply followed in varying degree.
Where does Mayawati figure in this? As a Dalit grass root worker, the feudal behaviour could not have come naturally to her. She had definitely learnt it after she reached the corridors of power. Moreover, the feudal dictatorial mode served as the strategic defence of her party against the ruling class marauders. She, and her mentor Kanshiram before her, knew the risk of the inner party democracy in a party of have-nots like Dalits. They had seen it in the destruction of the RPI, through the process of co-optation, out right buy-off or bribing of the Dalit leaders by the ruling class parties. The only solution lay in letting everyone bask in reflected glory as long as they enjoyed their confidence. For this reason they even avoided having a formal organization structure for the BSP. It is this shrewd mechanism that has saved BSP from going the RPI way. Whosoever left BSP for whatever reasons just could not rise again. The only option for people to stay on was to indulge in competitive display of devotion to the leader.
Squandering of Public Money
There have been numerous public institutions, structures, statues, parks, and places dotting the entire country, which are named after Gandhi or some scion of the Nehru family. Did anybody ever raise a question of propriety about them? In what way the Tughlaqesq decision of the Congress government in Maharashtra, the most indebted state in the country, to erect the 309 feet tall statue of Shivaji in the Arabian sea, at the cost of Rs. 500 crores is different from Mayawati’s Ambedkar memorial? Has our media discussed it ever with its insinuating ridicule? Kumar Ketkar who dared to question it had his house stoned in a broad day light. At least Mayawati has not resorted yet to such hooliganism. Nobody can deny that her building these memorials is not a waste of public money. The question is the ruling parties have all been doing it all the time with impunity. Why then Mayawati’s projects to commemorate Dalit icons be singled out for criticism? It is again the corollary of the feudal political culture that makes the leader assume all powers do whatever he or she likes. And certainly Mayawati is not the one who set it.
There is practically no accountability of the leaders to anyone except for their voters at the end of five years. Paradoxically, such squandering of money is precisely done to fortify their positions vis-à-vis voters. The traditional ruling parties have been doing it over a longer period of time for many people in their constituency and hence it may not particularly stick out as abnormality. But no body can deny that they have not squandered public money a million times over for fortifying their private interests. The mega memorials that Mayawati is constructing constitute an important element in her schema insuring her core constituency. Just because of their magnitude or magnificence, they cannot be classed differently than what all the ruling parties did all the time.
Accusing some leader of corruption when most of them multiply their ‘declared’ wealth, already running into crores, sounds a wee bit awkward. There is never a question raised by the vigilant media as to how this financial wizardry is accomplished by these social-service worthies that may shame even the most adept money managers. The progressive norm like declaration of wealth by the peoples’ representative and public servants has only served to legitimize corruption of the declarants for the gullible people. Mayawati is certainly not an exception. While there is a scope for suspicion that the declaration in case of the traditional elites may constitute a fraction of their actual wealth, the newer addition to their club like Mayawati may be relatively closer to the actual. At least Mayawati paid over Rs. 26 crores income tax last year and became one of the top 20 income tax payers in the country, far ahead of richest billionaires like Mukesh and Anil Ambanis, and certainly the topmost among politicians.
True, there is a case of acquiring disproportionate assets, covering the period of 1995-2003 against her pending in the courts. This was when her declared income was paltry Rs 88.70 lacs. Now it has gone over 80 crores, almost 100 times in less than 7 years! This massive wealth is claimed to be coming from donations ordinary Dalits make on her birth day. The 1000 rupee currency notes in the garlands certainly do not come from ordinary people, most of whom may not have even seen them ever except in pictures. It may have been too embarrassing for her to swallow the lie and hence she sacked the person who disclosed its contents to the media. It is unbelievable that our institutions like income tax or banking system are not able to trace the source of these high value currency notes or for that matter all this gift business. But it may not. Can corruption be pervasive without institutions winking at it? When more than half of the GDP is stolen every year in the broad gaze of these institutions, one has to see corruption itself institutionalized. If at all, Mayawati just does it in style as she does everything else!
Whether it should be like this is a moral question, which is essentially asked of the larger society. If the society permits its traditional elites to behave amoral, it loses its right to question its victims if they follow suit. No one asked the question when the Indian politics right from its inception has been exploiting the communal and caste divide even at the cost of risking our existence as a nation. What moral ground can it have to question if its traditional victim wants to give it in the same coin? Mayawati has yet not demonstrated many other evils that are endemic to the system. For instance, she cannot be accused of nepotism or dynastic rule that made our democracy a laughing stock. While the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is firmly ensconced as permanent ruler of the republic, many other dynasties have sprung up to monopolize power in their respective fiefdoms. With the imminent adoption of women’s reservation, these dynasties are expected to get only stronger.
This question however could be legitimately asked by the Dalits. Just because others have been exploiting them variously, their own leaders also are not entitled to cheat them for their own aggrandizement. Political power, as a key to all problems, should have been used as such by Mayawati to lessen the woes of Dalit masses at least to the extent the system permits. However, she has adopted the easier path of intoxicating these gullible people with liquor of identity. Intoxication, trance, mesmerization do not last long; when they end and Dalits wake up to their reality, the entire mayawi castle of Mayawati would begin to crumble.
Notwithstanding what happened to Dalits, Mayawati has done the greatest service to the people of this country by exposing the rot of the system by stretching the things that are taken for granted to their limits. No pontification or punditry could have explained what ails the system as effectively as her actions have done. Whatever she is accused of by the elitist media has nothing new in it in essential terms. Whether it is misusing caste in electoral strategy, or manipulating people along identities, or the feudal arrogance of power, or the corruption, or the gaudy display of money and muscle power, or the gross neglect of people, or the extraction of political rent, or the buckling of bureaucracy, or gross misuse of public money for self promotion, in short all that is seen as evil from moral high grounds have been the normal practice of our political class over the last six decades. The only difference between them and Mayawati is perhaps in the style; while they did it timidly, she has been defiantly confident about it. The very fact that the system could not touch her so far proves that she has not done anything which is not done by others or that the system is clandestinely hand in glove with her.
It is a different matter how soon the people of this country would see the rot of the system. Whenever they do they will realize the contribution of Mayawati in exposing it. Indeed, Mayawati is doing greatest service to the country. Paradoxically, if she is doing any disservice, it is only to the Dalits.
Anand Teltumbde is writer and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai