The Behenji

In India, temperature is soaring. While the sun is doing its bit, the election season is pushing up the mercury too. One of the leader that has suddenly caught the fancy of media in this election heat is Behenji - Mayawati. From the scholarly magazines like Economist [source], to feature pages of BBC [source] and to tabloid media of India [source], she is being biograph-ed, analysed, debated and usually hated in the comments section. This is in complete contrast to the last election in her home state - Uttar Pradesh, when she silently crafted the biggest electoral victory in UP in last two decades. This post is dedicated to her!

Leaving the arduous task of predicting her place in the South Block of Lutyen's Delhi to electoral pundits, I would just mention some things that had long crossed my mind for her and her nature of politics.

She is the worst nightmare of India's English speaking, 'The Hindu' reading and metro dwelling intelligentsia. She signifies to them everything that is wrong with Indian politics and her rise to national politics has left many of them sleepless. To me, personally speaking, politicians like her are a bulwark against class wars. This is also where, I believe, democracy plays out better than other forms of government. Her rise to power gives voice to the most marginalized section of the Indian society. A society that keeps a section of itself deprived of resources, dignity and power for centuries always risk facing a revolution or armed conflict from them. Democracy gives voice to them, and leaders like Mayawati helps ease that pressure.

Besides being a dalit, she is also a woman. Somehow, her gender has never been used like her caste to show her inability to govern or to gain sympathy from women voters. In fact, in Indian politics, gender is never a major electoral issue . Women in India do not particularly rally for a woman leader or men do not particularly shy away from voting a women. In western world, however, gender is always an issue in politics. There was a huge mass of women supporters behind Hillary Clinton when she contested the primaries. The fact was repeated many times that a women has stood for primaries for the first time. Many newspapers, likewise, came up with a biased coverage of her due to her gender. It was also mentioned in some news channels discussion that an awful number of people will not vote for her due to her gender, just as some others will not vote for Barack Obama for his race. Given the far more social independence that women enjoy in western society as compared to Indian society, this comes as a suprise. My take on this is as follows: In western world, especially in US, an individual is celebrated unlike in India where the caste, community or family is. In US, where caste and strong community bonding does not exist, it's the individual that is evaluated on their personal traits. Coversely, in India, the community and the family of that person is given more importance than the individual qualities. Thus, the baggage of her caste is so much more for Mayawati that her gender would not figure in electorate's mind while casting their vote. Corollary: She would be just as much despised by a Yadav woman in UP, as she is respected by a Dalit male.

The media used to hate her for her ostentatious display on her birthday bashes. Her diamond studded earings, mountain-sized cake were a focal point of derision by the columnists of many dailies. Agitated, they would ask - Why doesn't her voters get offended by these displays when they know they could never be as rich as her? There hasn't been any tangible evidence that shows that dalits fare better in her rule in terms of employment rate or financial status. Lately, she has also bonhomied with the upper most caste of Indian society - Brahmins. Her candidates in the current election are also mostly from non-dalit caste. She has diluted her stance of hatred towards upper caste, lacks any major developmental works in her current tenure, also hasn't done too much for the upliftment of dalits, whose cause she most vociferously espouse. Yet, her vote bank is said to be non-transferable! Why do dalits still vote for her, even though there are reasons for them to believe that she is using them to fulfill her political ambitions? The truth is - instead of getting offended, dalits love to see her display of wealth. Even if she never changes a single thing for them, they would still vote her to power. The reason is symbolism. For them, she symbolises everything that they had been denied for centuries. The sheer fact that somebody from their community could go on to reach this stature is enough of a good reason for them to vote.

Reading through the barrage of hate posts emanating from the urban youth in the comments section of most of the online media reports, I am surprised to see that many of them think of her as an uneducated and an illiterate person. I wonder where this misconception has come from. She holds two degrees, was a primary school teacher in a school in Delhi and was preparing for the civil services exams when his mentor Kanshiram spotted her furiously debating with Janata Dal leader Raj Narain and then walking out of that meeting in the constitution club of Delhi.

Dr. Ambedkar, while exhorting to his followers once said, "Political power is that master key to unlock all your problems". His statue of holding constitution in one hand with the other hand pointing towards Lok Sabha symbolises his message to his followers to educate themselves and gain political power. Dalits have given a lot to Mayawati and she has vigourously followed Dr. Ambedkar's statement of gaining political power. But what has she given back to dalits in return? Laloo Prasad Yadav gave a lot of voice to the socially backward Yadav community in Bihar but he didn't do any developmental work that would help them feed their young ones, or let them send their kids to school. In a same way, Mayawati may have given an iota of voice to dalits who can now sit in the main chaupal of the village, but she has still not started the developmental works for dalits. She has gained the master key but she is yet to unlock all the problems that beset Uttar pradesh and members of her own community. Instead, she is eyeing New Delhi. Personally, I think her ambitions for being a national player is well justified but it should have been supported by her work in UP. Just like Bihar's CM Nitish Kumar and Gujarat's CM Narendra Modi have a made a name for themselves for good governance, she should have followed suit. But she is more busy planning her next moves to check mate players in delhi. Like Sahir Ludhiyanvi wrote in one of his poems, "Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai?", I ask of Mayawati - What if you even become the Prime Minister of India? What would that change? Would that uplift a community from the centuries of burden that they had to bear? Would that help a dalit to gain better education and compete in open market? Would that make India a more tolerant nation? Would that in anyway change this nation except some new parks and statues of yours and Dr. Ambedkar?