The following article is written by Joy Bose (a close supporter of the New Socialist Alternative – CWI India) on the ongoing assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), focussing mainly on the Mayawati’s BSP government record in office.
None of the illusions over Mayawati’s 2007 election victory euphoria remain, even among her core support base. With the sort of majority she commanded, she could have easily challenged the political hegemony of the upper classes/ castes in Indian society. Instead she has only re-enforced all the old stereotypes by building a cult around herself besides indulging in massive loot of the public money.
But the tragedy of the situation is that all contenders to the UP throne are equally corrupt if not more. The situation is no different with the entry of Rahul Gandhi in the UP political scene, widely regarded as the heir apparent to the Congress’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. All his photo-ops, whether staying in Dalit homes or trying to appear supportive to the peasants fighting against SEZ in Western UP, has not cut much ice with the ordinary people who very well know the game that is being played in the name of ‘aam aadmi’ (common man).
With a 7 phase poll in India’s most populous state, the political circus among the main contenders could not have looked more comical than this. With none of them looking likely to gain a majority, the results is likely to lead to unstable coalitions governments as in the past.
With the mammoth exercise of the month long Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the focus of media attention has been on Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
A few months ago, Mayawati announced a resolution to break up the state of UP into 4 smaller states, citing her belief that UP was too big to be governed. Taking advantage of her party’s vast majority in the state legislature, she got the resolution to that effect passed after completely steam-rolling and ignoring all opposition to the move. Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the opposition Samajwadi party, described the move as a cynical ploy to distract voters from her poor governance record and induce them to vote for her party, at a time when the UP assembly elections was looming just months away.
Breaking large states into smaller states is never going to solve the problem of bad governance. All it does is create conditions for the elites in the smaller states to negotiate with the industrialists for a better deal in hopes of getting larger investments and enrich their own pockets, as well as strike better bargains with the centre for “their share” of money in the name of development. In other broken up states like Chattisgarh and Uttaranchal, breaking up has produced no noticeable improvement in the lives of the poorest people, only increased the gap between the rich and poor and also caused widespread destruction of the environment and traditional livelihoods.
Mayawati popularly known as ‘Behanji’ began as her political career as the heir, of her late mentor Kanshi Ram, going further than any Dalit politician before her, which is a no small achievement in the caste ridden politics of Uttar Pradesh. She boasts of a committed constituency of voters whose votes can be transferable to any political party she aligns with, giving her a lot of bargaining power when it comes to political alliances. Capitalising on this, she has been the Chief Minister of UP four times so far and likes to think of herself as the first Dalit Prime Minister of India in waiting.
Given the competing corrupt nature of the Samajwadi Party, BJP and of the Congress, Mayawati’s BSP still has an edge over her rivals by default. But her slogan of Social Engineering to appease the upper caste and upper class voters can undo her other schema by pushing her traditional base of Dalith voters to the lap of other equally corrupt political parties.
Dalith Icon Status
Daliths or oppressed castes, have been a significant part of the population of India. For centuries they have been oppressed by the higher castes and made to work in menial jobs. In many places, especially in villages, they are treated as untouchables and not allowed to intermarry or socialise with other layers of society. Although the practice of untouchability is banned by the Indian constitution, it still continues unabated, especially in villages.
There have been numerous instances of Daliths being killed or Dalith women being raped or paraded naked by upper caste villagers for things like drinking water from the same well or entering temples where upper castes worship. Dalith children are also discriminated against in schools. Daliths are not monolithic, but also composed of a number of castes and sub castes out of which only a few are better off and can take advantage of reservations in universities and government jobs, while others remain mired in poverty. This has created in them a strong sense of resentment and aspiration for power which parties like BSP capitalise on.
Mayawati, along with her late mentor Kanshi Ram, have assumed the role of Dalith icon. In the state of UP, where 22% of the population is Dalith or backward, her calls for Dalith power in the tradition of BR Ambedkar, architect of the Indian constitution, have won her widespread public support among the Daliths, not only in UP but all over India.
Record in Government
However the fact remains that despite her pro Dalith posturing, all her years as Chief Minister have failed to better the lives of the poorest Daliths of UP. All her policies have done is benefit the few top layers of dalit society who are already relatively better off. The atrocities on Daliths continues unabated in the villages and the poverty goes unchallenged. Critics claim that she is only interested in self glorification and posturing to become the future prime minister of India rather than any kind of Dalith improvement. In 2011, the UP government unleashed a police lathi (baton) charge on mainly Dalith villagers who were protesting their land being forcibly taken at a meagre pay and sold to industrialists for the purpose of creating special economic zones in western UP. This shows her true colours and care for the Daliths who are poor.
Her record in government is also very unimpressive, with UP remaining as one of the most backward states of India despite being one of the largest, and various corruption scandals such as the Taj Corridor case erupting and the recent NRHM scandal under her rule. She is said to be the richest chief minister, and her arbitrary transfers of officials and bureaucrats who don’t see eye to eye with her, have been criticised by many.
Mayawati has a penchant for spending crores of state money in building larger than life statues of herself, her mentor Kanshi Ram and BR Ambedkar, as well as statues of the elephant which is the symbol of her BSP party, across public places and parks in UP. Her birthdays are celebrated with great pomp at public expense, with garlands of money and being weighed in gold. However, she paints such ceremonies as expressions of Dalith pride and any political or legal opposition to herself or her expensive celebrations are termed anti dalit.
A few months ago, the high court of UP passed an order asking for all statues of Mayawati and the elephant symbol of BSP to be covered, so as to not influence votes of people before the elections. While it is true the high court in fact ordered an expensive and purposeless exercise by the bureaucratic administration, Mayawati characteristically termed the move as anti Dalith.
All in all, the fact is that the atrocities and continued extreme economic and social backwardness of Dalits mirrors the failure of the ruling classes to lift the society from its medieval history. It is more than mirage to expect Capitalism and Landlord-ism to solve this fundamental problem of Indian Society.
The liberalization of the Indian economy has only made their situation worse. The true culprit for the backwardness of dalits is the system of capitalism and landlord-ism that entrenches and widens social divisions. Daliths in India today need a real socialist political alternative that will work to abolish the unjust caste system and foster equity, rather than enrich their own pockets in the name of Dalith pride.