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A Peep Into Mayavati’s Politics

M C Raj

Let there be no doubt about this. Mayavati is the first Dalit woman in the history of India to ascend the seat of political power as Chief Minister, and that too in the largest State of India. This was no mean achievement in a country that has systemically and structurally oppressed Dalits for millennia through the instrument of religious scriptures and the mechanisms of social control and ostracization. Appreciating this greatest achievement in Dalit history the Dalit Panchayat Movement in Karnataka celebrates 03 June of every year as the Festival of Dalit women.

Let there be no mistake about this too. Can Mayavati be the political emancipator of Dalits in India as is claimed by many of her followers? My reply is a firm ‘NO’. Political liberation of a people does not come by political romantic dreaming. Nor does it come by churning out sheer political rhetoric. Politics is to deal with systems and structures of society, economics, culture, political theory building, ideological convergence of a people, education, self-governance mechanisms within the community etc. etc.

Both Kanshiram and Mayavati missed the bus on this score. They calculated their politics within the given limitations of the present political and electoral systems in the same way that the caste forces play politics against the Dalits. Such an effort did not create any hope of an alternative among the Dalit people at large in the country. Kanshiram especially played the number game in elections and vote bank politics that was not qualitatively very different from what all other caste parties played and won the game. He also won and set up Mayavati as the Chief Minister. The failure was that he ‘also’ won. Mayavati also won. Many other Dalit leaders also may win. But the Dalit community will be left in lurch both socially and politically, as a co-opted vote bank of caste parties.

Why is this so? When caste groups play their politics they play it from a position of certain power that they have acquired through their social, economic and political position in society. These were developed with opportunities gained because of their position in caste ladder in India and Dalits were systematically denied consistently and repeatedly such opportunities. No doubt that Dalits have gained a lot of opportunities in recent history. But a crucial question that is never asked by Dalit intelligentsia is whether such opportunities were ‘gained’ by Dalits out of an inherent and internal strength or were ‘given’ by the caste society as ‘rights’ with an inevitable tag of ‘cooption’. The latter is the clear caste in India. An oppressed community has all the right to claim such entitlements. The natural inference that one has to draw from this is that such ‘boon’ from ‘above’ will not last long in terms of empowering and emancipating an oppressed community. Unless the Dalit community is built up in such a way that it will sustain itself through its internal strength it can never be liberated from its dependence on other caste communities.

It is a simple psychological trap that Mayavati has fallen into just as her mentor Kanshiram. ‘Black Skins White Masks’ by Franz Fanon, a Black French psychoanalyst points out that the ultimate aim in life of every Black is to become a White. Did we not see this in our own lifetime in Michael Jackson rather crudely manifested? But what we see in the Dalit community is much worse and regressive. The moment a certain power is experienced, a certain climbing of the ladder is achieved, a certain recognition is given, a certain political power is tasted the Dalit leadership runs blindly after a space in the higher echelons of society. They want to grab as much space as possible in the caste society, in its institutions and mechanisms. This is legitimate. It should not be resented at all. But the problem is that the caste society anticipates this possible intrusion of Dalits into their safeguarded spaces. How will they let the Dalits enter their secure spaces unless they see a clear advantage for themselves in ‘providing’ a marginal space to Dalits? Even that marginal space will be given only on their strict terms and conditions. If their conditions are violated and if their space is threatened in any way they will irreversibly push out the Dalits from even legitimate spaces.

In their over enthusiasm to climb up the spaces of the mainstream society Dalits do not have the time even to look back and see where they started from. I mean to say that Dalit leaders have not taken adequate stock of their latent strength and have relied on the strength of their benefactors. I remember one late Mr. Ranganath Gowda in Devarahalli of Sira Taluk who used to tell me jokingly about Mr. Jampanna who never managed to move beyond the lines that Gowda drew for him politically. This is what he used to tell me about Jampanna, “I have taught him how to climb up the political ladder. But I have never taught him how to climb down. When the ladder is taken away he will only fall down never to climb again. That is my strength.” This example and the names are not fictional.

Coming back to Kanshiram and Mayavati, one of the biggest flaws in their political strategy was that they did not care much to recognize and unearth the latent strength of Dalit communities across the country and build their political strength on the ‘power’ of the people. What I say about these two great leaders can very easily be said also about all other Dalit leaders in different states of India. When Mayavati won the UP elections the previous time, the victory demanded a serious interrogation of the strategies and methods that were applied. Many groups of people began to see a light at the end of the tunnel and almost lost themselves in the euphoria they created.

However, from the other end of the tunnel there were the dominant caste forces that simultaneously saw a ray of light also for themselves. The caste forces clearly realized that if Dalits could muster their wits and could win, the Brahmins could ride piggyback on Dalits and they too could win. This is a lesson both sides offer to the ‘broken’ psyche of the Dalits whose leadership often takes refuge under their victimhood to shun responsible action towards the liberation of its people.

At the end of the tunnel also stood the Brahmin whose dilapidated citadel stared at him in an uncompromising gesture of millennium humiliation. Now the victory of BSP seemed to have resurrected the Brahmin. He found a log to latch on to so as not to be washed away by the unprecedented deluge of the rise of anti-Brahmin Bahujan in the country in contemporary politics. The Brahmin knew that Dalits could only wish him away and never wash him out. Now he also knew through Mayavati that Dalits could virtually rescue him from the limbo.

The UP victory resurrected his hope that the retaliation of the victim psyche could best be used to his advantage. The Dalit wanted to ‘teach’ him a lesson. The Dalit wanted to return to him all that he had received for more than three millennia. He wanted to be the godfather (in the present case, godmother) of the Brahmin only to defeat him. These were actually lessons that were learned from bitter history of the past engineered and executed by the Brahmin caste! They are the masters in such games. Can Mayavati or the Dalit leadership defeat the Brahmin in his master game? It will be a wild goose chase unless Dalit leadership changes its political course entirely.

The sustainability of Kanshiram-Mayavati politics have the following inherent weaknesses that need to be removed before Dalits actually begin to play a proactive political role in the country.

1. All those who are in the serious business of carving out a niche for the Dalit community in Indian politics need to realize that the victory of BSP in UP in the previous election could hardly be described as a Dalit victory. The end users of this victory were not directly Dalits but whoever could lay a hand on this victory. It could at best be described as an electoral victory engineered and executed by the political acumen of a party started and headed by two Dalit stalwarts. Such a victory was achieved within the gamut of the present political system in India. It can mean that there is either an implicit faith in the present political system, especially the electoral system of India or an inability to go beyond or worse even to be content with the little benefits that can accrue for some by tacitly subscribing to the present system. This can be problematic in the evolution of a Dalit political praxis in India.

2. The category of Bahujan is a political category, which is far removed from the natural identity politics of the Dalit community. Being a political category it may reap a harvest either in bounded time or in bounded geography. Dalit is a historical category, which can be used in political strategy. Bahujan is a political category that easily defies the logic of history and culture. Though it is created by the Dalit Kanshiram, it is not a Dalit category. That the Brahmin category is adduced to this historical and cultural category for the sake of sheer political victory casts a spell of gloom for the longterm political empowerment of the category of Dalit.

3. This political category has been toyed with at the whims and fancies of only those who ‘matter’ in the institution called the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that evolved this category. As soon as one of the originators of this category disappeared the character of the definition of the political category of Bahujan seems to be going through a metamorphosis. Politics is a game of the possible. Whose possibility is defined in this metamorphosis will be a question to dabble with for all intellectuals and practitioners of politics in this country. Kancha Ilaiah tried to carve out a niche for himself within this evolving political category by proposing a Dalit-Bahujan category. But Kanshiram threw out such an effort in the first stroke. With the victory in UP Mayavati floated another political category called the ‘Sarvajan’.

4. However much might be the euphoria that was created through that victory, history of Dalits seems to stare at her with a certain amount of apprehension. The suspicion that history of the Dalit people throws up is, to what extent can the Dalit trust the ‘Shudra’ or ‘backward caste’ category in political alliances. This reaction to the Shudra perhaps was at the bottom of the emergence of the ‘Sarvajan. The Shudra category has always proved that given a chance it would back the higher echelons of the caste society to its psychological, economic and political advantage rather than identify itself with its blood-related category of the Dalit. Let us remember Franz Fanon. Nay, the Shudra has made the best use of the Dalit springboard under his feet to propel himself into the orbit of Indian politics leaving the springboard to languish in the ghetto. It is because of sheer grit and determination that the likes of Kanshiram and Mayavati have succeeded in such hostile orbit.

5. The political category of Bahujan had its original ingredient. One such ingredient was the Muslim in India. Even M K Gandhi was horribly frightened of a possible amalgamation of these two categories in Indian politics. Even in sheer number game in politics the amalgamation of these two categories is significant. The first phase of the ‘Bahujan’ emergence was well balanced with this combination. However, the second base of ‘Sarvajan’ politics completely subverted this original vision, if at all there was a political vision at the bottom. Kanshiram evolved the Bahujan category precisely because he saw Muslims as natural allies of Dalits along with some backward caste groups. The post Kanshiram BSP seems to be dancing on a heap of ash after setting the hay on fire at the bottom.

6. Ambedkar also proposed that any number game in a representative democracy be played with a fair mix of democratic value, which for him is the feeling of brotherhood/sisterhood. In a beautiful combination of political values and pragmatic realism he proposed that Dalits be given separate electorate on par with the Muslims and Christians. Ambedkar played a number game in politics so that the Dalit community might have its political right of representation and power sharing without having to be at the mercy of the whims and fancies of any political party in governance. Kanshiram and Mayavti have played a different number game and won the elections three times. However, the question remains as to what and whose representation in politics have been gained by this number game which seems to be bereft of the values that Ambedkar gave voice to. The number game of BSP does not seem to have anything to do with the fulfilment of the political aspirations of the Dalit and other marginalized groups of people in India.

7. Under the Bahujan regime BSP joined hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1993 in buoyant bhai-bhai camaraderie. The Bahujan equation of BSP began to change when Mulayam ditched BSP in an ‘unfair’ game of politics. Instead of learning a long-term political lesson from this experience BSP seems to have developed knee-jerk reaction to its Bahujan equation and has gone overboard to please the Brahmin. The strategy to please the Brahmin is simultaneously a strategy to please oneself in the displeasure of the ‘traitor’ Mulayam. Gaining political power to govern is a significant achievement. Mayavati deserves unlimited appreciation for this. However, is capturing political power by any means the way to the future political power sharing by Dalit people?

8. The resurrected Brahmin caste was happy that it was able to come back to power riding piggyback on BSP. The resurrected BSP was happy that it bounced back to power riding piggyback on Brahmin power. However, what one has to ask is what the Brahmin caste would do when it is compelled to make a choice. The Brahmin would obviously opt for his caste just as all other castes would do. Therefore, it does not take much pain and time for the Brahmin who shifted from BJP to BSP to revert back. It just needs the stroke of a button. Perhaps BSP is also ready for reverting back when it suits. But then the million dollar question is what difference does it make to the future of Dalits and other marginalized sections of India’s vast population?

9. There is a much deep rooted malady both with the approach of Mayavati and Dalit political leadership in general in this country. Who is the owner of the power that Mayavati gained in UP? The self-evident reply to this question is that it is the BSP. If so, what relevance it has to all the Dalit communities in India will be the next question. Can this victory of BSP be equated with a Dalit victory? I ask this question not just for the pleasure of asking a critical question. The political implication here is who will sustain the political power that a Dalit party gains? There are many Dalit leaders in India who have made a Congress victory possible by bulk sale of Dalit votes to Congress. There are many Dalit leaders in India who do the same to the BJP and to other parties in India. Many Dalit intellectuals and practitioners of politics seem to take it for granted that BSP is a Dalit party. We are not sure if the leadership of BSP would agree with such assumption. All these point in one direction and that is that the Dalit community has not yet developed a long-term political vision of its own that can sustain the power it gains.

Lessons for Future

Therefore, Dalit politics at the national level is in dire need of taking a Dalit trajectory in the longterm political interest of the Dalit people. This can be done with Mayavati only if she radically transforms herself to a new political path. Since she is a Dalit woman she could become the best bet for Dalit political future. The new path has to be Dalits giving a leadership to the nation focusing on the many mega issues that keep confronting the nation intermittently. This implies a visioning for the nation along with a Dalit vision. This will require forging of longstanding political alliance with Muslims, Adivasis/Tribals/ Women and some MBC/OBC categories. Being the largest single community in India Dalits/Mayavati will be the most eligible ones to wear the mantle of leadership to give such a new direction to Indian politics and governance.

Simultaneously, Dalit community has to be internally strengthened on the basis of its history and culture, mechanisms of internal governance. A strong voluntary force of educated young people has to be set on task to go back to their communities to educate the community, especially the children on the many oral traditions that exist in Dalit history. Unless the Dalit community is strengthened from within just as all other communities have done, sharing in political power for Dalits is likely to remain only a mirage for a long time to come.

Ambedkar himself changed his political trajectory in the year 1955. On 27 August 1955, under the chairpersonship of Ambedkar the National Federation of Scheduled Castes passed a resolution saying that the Dalits do not need separate electorate nor do they need reserved seats as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Instead Ambedkar proposed an electoral system with multi-member constituencies clearly indicating a reformation in the electoral system of the country in favor of the Dalit and other minorities. The present FPTP electoral system of India is best suited for the dominant caste forces who would like to co-opt the Dalits as their biggest vote bank.

The serious business of building up the Dalit people as a strong and vibrant community in order to pave way for the emergence of a national Dalit party will require all the imagination and capacity of Dalit leadership for a period of time. Can we say that for another period of 15 years the entire Dalit leadership in the country converge all its energy and time for building up the community as an organic entity while at the same time working towards the creation of a national Dalit party? Will Mayavati be willing to take up the onerous task of forging a new national alliance? Such a path will actually propel her to dizzy heights in Indian political horizon.