04 September, 2003
UP, the dalit queen is gone, and the OBC chieftain rules. Yadav masses
and the cocktail circuit are both dancing attendance on Mulayam Singh
Sahara parivar, via that feisty event-manager Amar Singh, conquered
Delhi and Mumbai a long time ago, so no wonder Mulayam's guest list
is far more glamorous than Mayawati's could ever hope to be.
As far as Parmeshwar
Godrej and Tina Ambani are concerned, the Yadav wrestler is obviously
a Lovely Lohia. He is best buddies with Subrata Roy Sahara and Amitabh
Bachchan. He basks in the relentless approval of Sahmat. He has won
macho approval with his energetic opposition to the Women's Representation
And although the
scruffy moustache is a bit of a turn-off, Mulayam's fox-faced charm
appeals to rival political opportunists like Kalyan Singh and Ajit Singh,
and even some of the thakurs of the BJP. Mulayam is clearly far more
generally acceptable than the unsmiling tyrant of the Untouchables.
But is it love for Mulayam or hatred for Maya that is responsible for
the big party in UP?
the perpetual outsider. She may sport a crew cut, be as vulnerable to
charges of corruption as anyone else and bear an astonishing resemblance
to celebrity TV journalists, yet Ambedkar's legatees are tragically
trapped. Ambedkar, the brilliant theorist of pre-Independent India is
a millstone (or a statue) around the necks of the contemporary dalit
and his teachings are not being reinterpreted as vigorously as they
should be. To be a "dalit" is to remain a "dalit",
the eternally angry, rebellious and unreasonable "pariah",
with little scope of staking a claim of being a leader of every Indian.
To take on the "dalit" identity is to be a radical soldier
Yet as soon as you
become a "dalit leader" it becomes difficult to be anything
else. Mayawati set up Ambedkar villages, handed over land pattas to
dalits and arrested upper castes under the Harijan Act only to become
the undisputed leader of 15 per cent of the state's population. In spite
of election tickets to a few upper castes, the rest of her state's people
hardly interested her. Mayawati, the dalit leader failed to become chief
minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh.
landlords like Dumpy Ahmed or local aristos like Rashid Alvi, the BSP
has failed to attract non-dalits in large enough numbers, precisely
because BSP's caste hatred puts a limit on its appeal. And there is
little alternative to caste hatred. After all, there is still something
about the word "Achhut", isn't there? It's a grimy-sounding
word. A word that summons up, in the mind's eye, the image of those
who have been untouchable for three millennia.
"Achhut" with "Harijan" and there is no doubt how
enormously successful Gandhian anti-untouchability campaigns were. But
Ambedkar wrote: "There have been many mahatmas in India whose sole
object was to remove Untouchability and to elevate and absorb the depressed
classes, but every one of them has failed in his mission. Mahatmas have
come and mahatmas have gone but the Untouchables have remained Untouchables."
Should Mayawati in the 21st century continue to bristle with Ambedkarite
Anger is easy. Negotiation
is more difficult. The UN Conference at Durban equated "casteism"
with "racism"and if the parallel was applied to India we would
find a fairly rigid caste apartheid. As the Bhopal Declaration of 2002
points out, there is not a single dalit billionaire, businessmen or
industrialist. In a recent article, Virginus Xaxa, writes that in Delhi
only 6 of 311 professors are dalits. Unlike African-Americans in the
US who play a significant role in culture, here the cultural hegemony
of the dvija is intact and there are hardly any dalit actors, dalit
musicians, or dalit artists.The party-going elite which angrily insists
that caste is dead fails to realise how uniformly upper caste its own
social milieu is.
There is also the
argument that the stigma of "Scheduled Caste" will never be
totally removed unless Hindu sacred texts are re-written. Unlike Jesus
and Mohammed, Hindu gods and goddesses (except Krishna) are mostly aristocrats
and the Hindu pantheon has no god "of the poor". Ambedkar
writes: "Examine the Gandhian attitude to strikes, the Gandhian
reverence for caste and the Gandhian doctrine of trustee-ship of the
rich... Gandhism is the philosophy of the well-to do and leisured class."
But the irony is
that in spite of his critiques, Ambedkar himself struggled to build
an electable political constituency and major sections of Untouchables
opted to align with the Gandhian Congress. Ambedkar's critique of Gandhi
was made at a different time under different conditions of political
competitiveness and his mass popularity must be reviewed. Today, instead
of being champions only for their own caste, dalit leaders should become
champions of general democratisation.
As the UP crisis
shows, the central dilemma of a dalit leader today is that advancing
the "dalit agenda" brings with it almost total social isolation.
Live because of your vote bank but also die because of your vote bank.
This is exemplified by the manner in which an entire range of politicians
ganged up on Mayawati, precisely because Mayawati is perhaps the first
dalit to break the Jagjivan Ram pattern of the loyal Congress dalit.
She was able to do this and win a large constituency for herself by
pushing a narrow, aggressive line on justice-only-for-dalits. In this
sense Mayawati's trap is similar to the trap that a "Muslim leader"
might find himself in. The "Muslim leader" like the "dalit
leader" succeeds because of his vote bank but also fails because
"It's all one
skin and bone, one piss and shit, one blood, one meat, from one drop
a universe, who's a Brahmin, who's Shudra?" sang Kabir in the 15th
century. The Bhakti saint would be lost not only in UP but even in MP
and parts of Rajasthan and Maharashtra where increasing dalit votebanks
have struck fear in the hearts of many dvija politicians such as Diggy
and Gehlot. Mayawati may no longer be UP chief minister but there is
no reason to believe that the BSP may not make larger gains in the coming
If and when the
BSP wave rises again, Mayawati may like to shrug off the burdens of
Ambedkar. Now that she has been the first autonomous "dalit politician",
she might take a shot at being the first dalit stateswoman. To do this,
she may have to use caste, but not remain its prisoner.