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Defining Moment Of Dalit Empowerment In Uttar-Pradesh

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

12 May, 2007

It was May 2002 when I was on a Padyatra in Bundelkhand. After nearly 10 days of the yatra, we were in a tribal village of Kols who were threatened by the forest department and police officials every time they tilled their land. The day we reached this tiny village on the track of the mighty Indian Railways, the political wind in Lucknow was changing and news of Mayawati's assuming charge of Uttar-Pradesh became clear. There was jubilation in the village. The whole night, the Kols, their men and women both, danced and sang in the loudest possible voice. When I asked them whether they do not fear the police now. 'No', said an elderly man, 'now with Mayawati at the helm of affair in Uttar-Pradesh, no body can touch us'.

That was the power of Mayawati that the Dalits and MBCs felt safe and secure in the otherwise adverse administrative environment of Uttar-Pradesh. And soon after Mayawati's resigned and Mulayam Singh Yadav cobbled a majority with the help of BJP, I got a phone call from a Chamar family in Faizabad district. The landless family had been granted a house under the Indira Awas Yojana. The Kurmis, the powerful landowning backward community and traditionally with high anti dalit feeling, used the change in political power in Lucknow to terrorize the Chamar family and hence the entire community was living in constant fear. Even the women Sarpanch who happened to be a Dalit was assaulted. We went to meet a Minister in Lucknow who was once upon a time very close comrade of Late Kanshi Ram. The minister's first question to the community was ' whether they voted him?' Though he wrote a letter to the local officer yet the Minister knew it well where the community loyalty were and hence we was not very keen on helping them.

Today, Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party have got a decisive mandate in Uttar-Pradesh. It was one of the fairest polls in Uttar-Pradesh where the voter voted with out any fear. Bahujan Samaj Party got 206 seats out of 402, clear mandate from the voters of Uttar-Pradesh. The pollsters have been predicting that BSP would emerge single largest party and Malayam Singh Yadav and his cronies were thinking that they would still be able to manipulate the things. Uttar-Pradesh's poll results have proved every body wrong. The thing is that these pollsters wanted BJP to get stronger not because of their love for Hindutva but for their corporate connections. BJP got legitimacy by the media because of its media linkages and strong corporate connections. It was difficult for them to ignore but the voters have proved every one of them widely wrong and one only hope that they would not try to influence the result. It is also proved that these opinion polls may change the heart of upper caste English speaking people, they seldom change the mind and determination of Dalits. Dalits and Muslims have developed their own communal network of understanding and rarely do they depend on media analysis for who to vote particularly in Uttar-Pradesh, which is definitely a better sign of maturity.

It is a Vote against India Shining

In 2004, the National Democratic Alliance lost power because of the 'India Shining' campaign. Chandra Babu Naidu lost in Andhra Pradesh, S.M.Krishna lost in Karnatka, Amrinder Singh in Punjab and N D Tiwari in Uttarakhand. Even in Delhi Shiela Dixit led Congress had to face defeat. Mulayam Singh Yadav went to poll with slogan ' UP main hai dum, kyonki aparadh yahan hai kam', a slogan coined by one of the 'friends' of Mulayam Singh, Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan and his advisers felt that they can sale anything. It was shameful that Amitabh Bachchan felt that Uttar-Pradesh was a place worth living because there was no crime here, when hundreds of children went missing in Nithari and kidnapping and ransom became the order of the day. Mr Amar Singh would come and give the journalist the other document about Delhi and other parts of the country. Since Amar Singh and his friends have glamour connections they thought that in this market everything is saleable. Amitabh Bachchan must realize that he is as mortal as any one else and hence should stop playing dirty politics in Uttar-Pradesh as people are simply not impressed with his shrewd manipulations.

It is shameful to call Yadav as son of the farmer when the farmers were facing difficulties. The most fertile land of Dadri was sold at the throw away price to friend Anil Ambani. New malls were being promoted and Amar Singh was providing glamour from Bollywood to Mulayam Singh Yadav. There was no electricity in the villages. Mulyam thought that he would dole out money to the rural folks and they would in turn vote him. He declared unemployment allowance. There was Kanya Vidya Dhan where he gave Rs 20,000/- to every girl who passed intermediate, though the amount never reached the needy people. Mulayam felt that Muslims have no choice except him. Despite the fact that goons have got their freedom and criminals were made ministers, Mulayam and his friends felt that people don't understand politics. His anti Dalit postures and placating the upper castes at the cost of Dalits were so powerful that those who do not subscribe to Mayawati's politics of appeasing Brahmins were willing to bet for Mayawati as a better administrator .

Rejection of narrow caste based Parties

Most of the small time political parties in Uttar-Pradesh have been decimated. People like Sone Lal Patel who thought the Kurmis would be behind him lost them. Beni Prasad Varma lost from Ayodhya and in the domain of Dadua, two Brahmin candidate of the BSP won the seat. The Rajbhar party of Om Prakash Yadav too lost. This party used to ask its cadre to remove Dr Ambedkar's portrait and put Raja Sohail Dev in their houses as if Sohail Dev fought for social justice.

Haji Yaqoob won from Sardhana and he comes from the BSP background. The problem is that all the political fronts that were created in the later stage had one problem. Their sheer anti Chamar posturing. It was felt that since the BSP is a party led by Mayawati, it is automatically dominated by the Chamars hence there is a need for other groups to have similar experiment. Those who do think in these lines forget some important aspect of the Chamar-Jatav experience of BSP. Chamars have been a politically mobile community. It understood the importance of political empowerment, the message of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Chamar is the only community, which took BSP's political empowerment as a mission. Not only did they stood rock solid behind Mayawati but also ensured that the networking of communities go beyond their own community. Kanshi Ram had promoted some of the most unrepresented communities in BSP giving him total loyalty from these communities. One need to understand and appreciate that BSP did not just win with just Muslim-Chamar-Brahmin vote. The fact is a large number of other communities particularly the MBCs also voted for the party. While the smaller parties could rarely make their agenda broader. Can any agenda be there on anti Ambedkar platform? Ambedkar is the essential component of any party of India, which claim to work for the Dalits and the marginalized. To equate Sardar Patel (as Sone Pal Patel did), or Suhail Dev in the case of Om Prakash Rajbhar's Rastriya Vikas Party, with Ambedkar ignoring the great legacy of Baba Saheb and his tireless work for the marginalized. Can we really say that Sardar and Sohail Dev had that much of commitment for the poor. Sone Lal Patel was ready to give ticket to Bablu Srivastava and Abu Salem. Glorifying every one who is not an upper caste would not work and failed. These parties did not have any perception and want to ally with any one who can give them space and legitimacy. Result was that Rajbhar went and broke with Congress while Patel fought with BJP-JDU. The small caste based political parties actually failed to mobiles people. Their focus was too narrow and on their own caste. They did not make proper alliance. The political leaders heading these parties are not less autocratic than Mayawati. There was no effort from their side to reach different caste segments. Many of them felt that just waving hands and organizing public meeting at the eleventh hour would work but BSP's strength was the work of its 'missionary' workers.

Survival of the fittest

Secondly, the upper castes also knew well that their future lies with BSP. That is also the danger whether Mayawati would be able to deal with the problems that the Dalits face in the village. Whether the conflict would be lesser. It is no doubt that in the past the agrarian communities were at the logger heads with the Dalits as their common interest on land and agriculture clash yet it would be absolutely cynical to conclude that Dalits and Brahmins make natural alliance and that their interest clash with shudra communities. One must understand that in UP it is the power conflict and that some of the backward communities might have gained after the Zamindari Abolition and post Mandal some of the politically mobile backward communities came in close cooperation with the Kshatriya communities and might have involved in hitting the Dalits but the condition and isolation of communities like Rajbhars, Nishads, Kashyaps, Nais, Gonds is similar to that of the Dalits. It is also a misgiving that Brahmins are marginalized like Chamars. How can a community which was oppressor and other which was at the receiving end could be put with in a bracket? Second, even during the post mandal era, Brahmins were never marginalized. Those who thought that Narsimha Rao was the last Brahmin prime minister have to eat up their word with Atal Bihari Vajpayee taking over BJP's command. In fact, one thing that went against Lal Krishna Advani was his being a non-Brahmin otherwise, what is the difference between Advani and Vajpayee? Both great friends and presided over a regime where minorities felt deeply neglected and frightened. Both were equally communal but Vajpayee was always made as if he is different than Advani.

Brahmins will never be marginalized in India as long as India remains confine to brahmanical wisdom and its communities continue to prostrate to inefficient and cruel gods. The Brahmin bureaucracy is high and mighty. Most of the newspapers and magazines have not only Brahmin editors but also reporters and copy editors. The gap between the Brahmins and non-Brahmins is too high to be narrated hence to say that Brahmins have suddenly changed would be reading too much in the verdict.

No doubt the Brahmins have come along with Mayawati after she offered them handsome number of tickets. It is also important to understand that coming along with Mayawati was the only option for them as Hindutva agenda was becoming too futile for every one. More than that, with in the Hindutva, Rajnath Singh and then Yogi Aditya Nath, both Thakurs, allegedly supported the parochial caste interests. Most of the ticket that Aditya Nath got in the BJP went to the Thakurs hence the Brahmins were disgusted. Mulayam Singh Yadav, though, played Brahmin card, yet the community felt he was too close to the Thakurs, a rival community. The upsurge of the Brahmins have come from the fact that during the post Mandal political alliance MAJGR ( Muslim, Ahir, Jat, Gujar and Rajput) actually marginalized the Brahmins. Therefore, Brahmins were in a look for a solid alliance, which could revive their fortune.

To say that this alliance would be easily replicated elsewhere would be too simplistic. Such alliance may not work in UP in future also leave alone in states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Gujarat, Rajasthan or Haryana. UP verdict was a clear vote against Mulayam Singh Yadav and his jungle Raj. Secondly, the vote was too low and only the 'missionaries' votes ensured BSP won. The party had meticulously planned its strategies, which resulted in its success.

Secondly, Brahmins never hurt directly. It is the institutionalization of the caste system that we are opposed to and not an individual. Yet, things may not change in UP as long as you are asked to represent your caste. The Brahmins and other upper castes have joined BSP to save their interest and not left their caste philosophy of Hindutva. One only hopes that Mayawati would not compromise with the interest of the Dalits and take strong action against the cases of violence against the Dalits in the state.

Politicisation is the key to empowerment

I have always held the view that politicization is the key to Dalit empowerment. The NGOs might work to claim the legacy of Ambedkarite movement; it is ironical that it is Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, which are the guiding destiny of the Dalit movement in India. While funds to support the 'Dalit movement' coming in the southern part of India, people claiming to 'end caste system' in certain pockets of north India, copies of 'great work' being shown to international donor agencies, the fact remain, it is the Dalit of Uttar-Pradesh who has taken it as task of mission. The political empowerment of the Dalits in Uttar-Pradesh is a result out of Ambedkarite understanding. It is the Jatavs and Chamars of Agra who were quick to leave their work and become part of Dr Ambedkar's movement. It is this Ambedkarite legacy coupled with Buddhist understanding that this community was able to change the fortune of the Dalit movement in India.

BSP is not Dalit movement yet it is the only political party of Ambedkarite legacy. All other political outfits today are unable to understand the vacuum among the political parties. Mayawati remain the only serious contender for that and that is why the Dalits are solidly behind her ignoring her own record of corruption.

Dalits have to forge alliances elsewhere but more than it need committed missionaries to take the movement further. BSP is a political outfit and may have to make many compromises but the movement has to continue to make its presence felt, to pressurize the political class to be careful, to guide even the political forces to take the right path.

Hindutva punctured : UP's mandate makes us proud

Finally, the electoral mandate in Uttar-Pradesh makes us proud for two things. One that the people have rejected the shining brigade and want the political leaders to concentrate on the basic issues. Second, it will definitely give a boost to those working for the empowerment of Dalits whether they agree or differ with Mayawati's style of functioning, as this is a real opportunity for her to prove. Thirdly, the total decimation of the Hindutva and its top class leadership. The results in Uttarakhand and Punjab and later in Delhi gave us nightmare of Hindtuva's uninterrupted march to Delhi. Now, the results in Uttar-Pradesh have sent the Hindutva hardliners to graveyards. Hindutva and its communal agenda can only be defeated by an enlightened Dalit Bahujan confederation along with truly secular rationalists. Those who want to call themselves secular and still promote irrational practices cannot be called secular. A popular icon's flirtation with rituals and religiosity cannot make him secular, as Mulayam wanted us to believe. Mayawati need to understand that flirtation with Hindutva proved expensive for her in the past. She should remain careful in further approach and deal with such forces ruthlessly. She should not allow Uttar-Pradesh to become an experimenting ground for the thugs of Hindutva whose hate campaign against the Muslims did not work. We all know that how the Hindutva's gang operated and tried to vitiate the atmosphere in the entire state. The best practice of the upper caste is that if you cannot conquer some one just co-opt him. Mayawati should send out clear message of her priority of good governance and her commitment to social justice. One welcome the victory of over 14% Muslims in UP Assembly from all the parties. This shows that a rainbow coalition in UP of the Dalits, marginalized and minorities is a functioning reality in the villages and those who want to break it for narrow political purposes would bite dust in Uttar-Pradesh.

Though BSP had rarely come out in open against the economic policies or on the issue of reservation, it is important that the party does not compromise on these issues. Already, the courts in India are playing the dirty games of spoiling everything that is meant for social justice. The land reform has been made redundant by continuous litigations in the court. The political participation of the Dalits and marginalized is under the threat and various cases are there against top political leadership.

Significance of power in Lucknow

The assumption of power of the largest state has significance for the Dalits and Marginalised all over the country. Yet, unless great work is done by those in power, they remain mere symbolic. Mayawati has used these symbols to spread her base. Those have been important milestones, now at the fourth term; she need to define her economic and social agenda and must move beyond symbols. Land Reform is long over due and that need to be vigorously implemented apart from that there must be quota for the MBCs. She must implement the Ambedkargaon scheme and bring drastic change in the already crippled educational mess in Uttar-Pradesh. In her earlier stints she did not have majority, now with enough MLAs on her side, she need to build Uttar-Pradesh and turn it to an enlightened Pradesh. The country is waiting this transformation of power in this state, which could turn out a role model state for others, but it depends on how she handles it. Whether she would be able to annoy her newfound allies in the form of Brahmins? How this contradiction is managed will be seen in the coming days. Meanwhile, the struggling masses of Dalits and other marginalized must not remain satisfied with this as their becoming mute would give ample space to political leadership to manipulate. The time of Ambedkarite pressure group has now come. It must work as a link between the aspiration of Dalit masses and the duties of a Dalit political leadership. Today, with the Chief Justice of India at the top judiciary, with a chief of University Grants Commission and with a member in Planning Commission and other number of dignitaries, Dalits Empowerment is here to stay yet a large number of those who are still far away from basic amenities of life, Mayawati's ascendance brings hope. A hope that she would change the power equations that hurt Dalits and provide social and economic security to all. That Behenjee would reason first before giving any approval to private corporations, builders, mafias who want UP to 'shine' at the cost of its poor Dalit Bahujan masses. One is sure that this government will not betray its mandate that people of Uttar-Pradesh has given to it. Let us hope that she will keep these in mind before proceeding to Dadari and other such projects, which were granted out of personal loyalty by the previous government. Let us hope that Mayawati will remain committed to the ideas of her idols like Baba Saheb, Sri Narayanguru, Periyar and Chhatripati Shahuji Maharaj. Hope she would not erect a Ganesha in between to placate the Brahmins. The struggle of the Dalits for dignity and self-respect was based on their right against the brahmanical forces and irrationality of the caste system. One only hopes that this rich legacy would not be lost in the din of 'empowerment' in Lucknow.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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