Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Opportunity Lost

Mayawati, the controversial queen of the Dalits, is in the news for all the wrong reasons ever since her crowning in 2007. Hers is the typical story of grit and determination to win against all odds. It is also the story of success of Indian democracy that opened the doors for an underclass woman to lead India's biggest state, Uttar Pradesh. Sadly, however, it is also the story of misusing public money for self-glorification and much ink has been spilt on that. Media and opposition parties have been crying hoarse over this politician, who champions causes of the poor, for her vulgar display of wealth - be it her lavish birthday parties, her diamond jewellery and real estate acquisitions or her statues and parks.

What her critics do not understand is that these outlandish acts are tactical moves on her part for the consumption of her Dalit supporters. For them, Mayawati's riches and power are symbols of collective Dalit power and wealth; her statues, Dalit entry into community space; and her birthday parties, their right to celebrations - all of which was forbidden for the underclass by the upper castes for centuries. So, while her critics find the sight of Mayawati getting a multi-million 1000 rupee note garland obscene, her underprivileged supporters get ecstatic by the same.


Three years into power and she has been too busy acquiring - so much so that she pays advance tax of rupees 140 million - to have found time for positive policy making. She says it's all gifted to her by her impoverished supporters! The queen moves with a convoy of 34 vehicles to the great inconvenience of people - and commoners are not even allowed to look at her grand march. She transfers and suspends high ranking officials who do not toe her line, or who are suspected of being close to Mulayam. She unabashedly and deliberately ambushes welfare schemes of the Central government for the fear of Congress regaining foothold in her Dalit fort. While 26,000 vacancies remain unfilled in the police force in UP, Mayawati bends rules to create a special force at a staggering cost of 90 million rupees to protect her statues. This at a time when the state has the highest number of atrocities against the Dalits, not to mention highest crime rates in India. The same day, she refuses to implement Right to Education under the pretext of lack of funds.


The problem with the Mayawati government is that indulgence in symbolism is all that is there on the cards. When a Dalit CM takes to the office for the fourth time in a state - this time with a clear mandate - it is strange to find her lacking a definite agenda for uplifting masses from the clutches of underdevelopment. But, like her previous stints as CM, this time too Mayawati has chosen to please her Dalit voters through symbolism and not through any structural changes for their socio-economic emancipation. Mayawati needs to understand that Dalits are no fools.


Mayawati has not only squandered away the goodwill reposed in her by the Dalits, but also a chance to rise above the identity politics and project herself as a visionary leader. Being a Dalit who came to power by forging an unlikely coalition with upper castes and Muslims, Mayawati was presented with a historic opportunity to move beyond the narrow caste considerations that had plagued the UP politics since the post-Mandal times and leverage this trust displayed in her by various segments of the society, to bridge social divides.

... ... ...

Dr. Ambedkar had an opportunity to write the Indian Constitution. He created history by introducing reservations as a way forward to make all Indians equal. Mayawati, on the other hand, misused all the opportunities that democracy offered her, by doing precious little for the underclass. She was the mother goddess to her people; their savior who was expected to liberate them from social and economic subjugation. In the end, she turned out to be just another mortal; just another rebel with all lost causes.

Read the full article by Semu Bhatt here in Southasia Online.

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