Let’s not get trapped. Mayawati may be the underdog’s ultimate power symbol, but she sure is no Obama. It is true that they both belong to communities that have been long oppressed, but that’s where the analogy ends. The Meteoric Rise There is no doubt that her’s is a fascinating tale – of courage, pluck and good luck. Despite being a girl child of a lower middle income father of the Chamar caste, Mayawati was quite determined to do well for herself from the start. So this government school teacher burnt the midnight oil to bring within grasp the best she thought perceivable – a berth in the IAS cadre.
But fate had different designs. A late night knock on the door by two strangers (one being Kanshi Ram), opened the gateway to a political life. The ultimate dream of becoming a civil servant was thrown to the wind, for she had now set her eyes on something much grander. When her father protested at such day dreaming, she walked out of the security of her home to test the untamed terrain of politics with Kanshi Ram as mentor, guide and whatever else. While the late ‘70s were spent in grooming her into the movement to liberate the Dalits from centuries of subjugation, ‘80s saw a young rambunctious woman with a pony-tail leading a pack of bicyclists across the cow-belt and thus slowly turning a social campaign into a political one. BSP was finally launched in 1984. In just a decade’s time, when the opportunity arose, Kanshi Ram stepped aside and crowned her the queen of Uttar Pradesh, favouring her even above some of those who had spent their prime toiling for the causes espoused by him. Her ascension to the post of Chief Minister of the state came as such a shock to the polity that it had led the late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to exclaim it as “a miracle of democracy”. Her tenure was short lived, but Mayawati had tasted blood. Political Opportunism Mayawati became the Chief Minister not once, or twice, but four times and is currently in chair. However, somewhere down the line, the trajectories of her own motives of being in politics and Kanshi Ram’s movement have split course. While Kanshi Ram did not waver from his stand on ideological issues concerning the Dalits, she has turned the process of asking for real parity merely into political grandstanding. Long gone are the days when she suspected a ‘Manuwadi’ conspiracy behind every event and spewed raw abuses at the upper castes. “Tilak, Taraju aur Talwar, Isko Maro Joota Char,” she had chanted targeting Brahmins, Vaishyas and Rajputs at one go. Her venom had not even spared the father of the nation. She has supposedly even questioned Gandhi’s intention of calling her community Harijan (God’s children), thereby openly implying that the others to be the children of Satan. Today the lady is humming a different tune. Upper castes are her new cynosure. In the next Lok Sabha polls she plans to dole out nearly 50% tickets to Brahmins in UP, a clear U-turn since the days her mantra was: “Jiski Jitni Sankhya Bhari, Uski Utni Bhagedari”, indicating that Dalits should be given the lion’s share in polity owing to their vast numbers. A Dalit, who can be a leader to all sections of the society, is very welcome. But the inclusiveness that she is now harping about is her compulsion, not her vision. And that’s the point. The fact that SC Mishra, a Brahmin, and Shashank Shekhar Singh, a Jat, are her right hand men today is because it suits her strategy. It serves her next move in the complicated gameplan of Indian political chess. Ideology be damned. She is talking in a new language not because she has overnight acquired largesse, but because of her own lust for power. The change of heart is not limited to her new take on caste dynamics; it extends to other cases to, depending on their suitability. For example she cried foul about Atiq Ahmed wanting to kill her at one time, and then went ahead all the way to woo him when it had come down to the wire over the confidence vote on the N-deal. If anything, the Dalit leader is a product of this very set up – social and political. Only that she has learnt to use the system shrewdly and crudely. She has learnt to convert vote banks to her advantage, to use cunning to cobble negotiations, and then to backstab when she sees a gain especially when it comes to political partnerships and extending support. Mayawati, at the epitome of her power, looks more and more a woman determined to realize unbridled ambition, which will not be satiated in Uttar Pradesh. She has openly declared her next stop will be at the Prime Minister’s office.
Study in Hedonism Her birthday bashes must be grand, it matters little then that some people get bashed up for them and may even end up dead. Ruling over 200 million, her terms have been missed opportunities. While her personal wealth has multiplied a zillion times, the woes of her tribe remain the same. Once a government school teacher, the CBI listed her holding till 2003 to include: 41 agricultural plots, 16 residential plots, 7 shops, 3 orchards and 2 shop-cum-residences. Mulayam Singh Yadav later came out with another list of 131 additional properties in the name of her family, which has no perceivable sources of income to amass such wealth. Needless to say her coffers have only swollen further in the last six years, considering her frequent stints as the CM. She justifies this by saying that her community wants to see a Dalit ki Beti (Dalit’s daughter) live well. But while she decks up in pink chiffon silks and diamonds, the Dalits in her state are still struggling to put two square meals together. Living in wallowing luxury, Mayawati is the highest income tax payer politician and has filed Rs 26 crore return for 2007-08, more than what Mukesh Ambani has posted. This being just the declared pelf. Each birthday is an occasion of grotesque exhibition. Cakes weighing 50, 51 or 52… kg are ordered depending on her age. There are more than 100,000 ladoos to be distributed, 60 quintals of marigold flowers used for decorations and around 5,000-7000 bouquets, specially ordered from Holland, as tokens of sycophancy. The great day is declared as swabhiman diwas (self-respect day) when her admirers are encouraged/coerced to contribute ostensibly to the party kitty, including from the MPLAD funds. That there is no real demarcation between her and the party is an open secret. Even by conservative estimates, the entire show ends up costing the state exchequer around Rs 10-20 crore. And when she moves around town, Bhenji must be accompanied by at least 350 policemen in her cavalcade of over 30 vehicles. Sham Empowerment & Unbridled Tyranny Now compare this with some hard facts. Crimes against Dalits have risen in 2007 for the third year running in UP, with the state topping the chart in atrocities against SCs and STs. Of the 9,819 cases reported in India, 2,113 occurred in Uttar Pradesh. The report also pointed out that crimes against this deprived class grew by 14.4 percent at a time when Mayawati, a Dalit, is the CM. Now that’s a shame. Mayawati must realize that she is where she is because the downtrodden see her as a ray of hope. They live vicarious dreams through her. They feel that if it is possible for her, they too have a reason for optimism. Through all the vast parks and statues, it is not her ego that is alone massaged, but of her community’s. It gives them a false notion of Dalit clout. Mayawati meanwhile has broken all records of self gratification, becoming the first person in India to erect her own statue! The irony is that workers in the Ambedkar Park are not even protected with masks or safety glasses which are mandatory at such construction sites. It has also been found that they are not being given the minimum wages guaranteed by law. Her tyrannical tactics know no reining. Days after PWD executive engineer MK Gupta’s life was snuffed out by her MLA Shekhar Tiwari, as he and his goons couldn’t prise moolah for her birthday party, another government official CR Rai went public about similar threats he was receiving from her men. Mayawati should not forget her days of horror when SP men had enclosed on her at the Lucknow state guest house before she allows her droogs to follow the very tactics that she had then slammed. Birthday Resolution Undoubtedly Mayawati has given Dalits a sense of self respect and belief in themselves. She has also handled security concerns of minorities very well; the case of VHP activists in Mathura is a fine example. But throwing out Reliance Retail or persecuting Anil Ambani and Subrato Roy are regressive measures and stink of vindictiveness. As far as MK Gupta murder case is concerned, as a first sensible step Mayawati has given a severe tongue lashing to her MLAs. She has also canceled her birthday celebrations this year, perhaps to escape more bad publicity. She now needs to make a birthday resolution to tear down this bogey of fake empowerment and concentrate on measures that will genuinely improve the lot of her people. Her compulsion of taking other castes along is an opportunity in disguise for her to evolve a comprehensive plan of progress for all communities. She must also tone down her egregious show of power, and have the humility to meet the Gupta family, who yet awaits Bhenji’s visit to condole the death of a man, who was also a husband and a father. Destiny has been generous to Mayawati, she must not squander her chance. (January 15 is Mayawati’s birthday)