Dr Sandeep Pandey

The rise of Bahujan Samaj Party and Mayawati to power in Uttar Pradesh has been remarkable.

There has been a corresponding rise in political consciousness of dalits which has made a serious dent in the oppressive vertical system of exploitation based on caste hierarchy. This has, of course, been preceded by a similar assertion of backward caste politics in the post Mandal phase. Until 20 years back in Hardoi district an upper caste man could give a call to all Chamars of a village to come to work on his field and it would have been very difficult for any of the Chamars to defy the order. Similarly, the newly married bride in a fisherfolk community of Ballia district, until the previous generation, would have to spend the first night at the upper caste Zamindar's house because the entire community was living on a land provided by the Zamindar.

Once when this community had voted for a political party out of their own choice the Zamindar had passed an edict banning them from using his land for the purposes of excretion. The community had to apologize and promise to vote according to Zamindar's wish in future elections. Such has been the tyranny of the caste system. These inhuman practices are slowly becoming history as Mayawati creates history of her own.

What Mayawati, representing the most vulnerable segment of the society, has been able to achieve is unthinkable in the American democracy or any other country of the world for a long time to come. She has wrested power from the powerful in a patriarchal feudal system entrenched in a casteist framework supported by mafia and criminal. The Congress party was trying its best to woo back its dalit vote bank. It instead lost the Brahmins and Muslims to Behenji as well. Mayawati is on top of an alliance which once formed the bedrock of Congress party, the only truly genuine national party in the country. The only difference is that whereas the upper caste dominated leadership of Congress was controlling the dalits, this time it is a dalit controlling the rest. The Congress party remains a sorry bystander in this upturning of hierarchy. Howsoever progressive Congress might be, it would have never tolerated an independent thinking dalit leader.

With Mayawati's coming to power everyone assumes that law and order situation would improve and atrocities against dalits would mitigate. She has already announced the long overdue increase in minimum wages of unskilled workers from Rs. 58 to Rs. 80 per day for eight hours of work. It is a definitely more progressive step than Mulayam Singh’s dole of Rs. 500 as unemployment allowance per month to the educated youth. Whereas successive pay commissions have typically increased the salaries of service classes, nobody has paid attention to a proportionate increase in daily wages for unskilled labourers. The daily wages continue to be abysmally low compared to the incomes of other segments of society across the country.

However, Mayawati is known to be an idiosyncratic and erratic politician. Her autocratic ways allow little space for democracy within the party. Her methods of distributing election tickets to the largest bidder do not create the sense of loyalty for the party or its ideology which is needed in the time of crisis. Professionals who see politics as an instrument of making money can be easily lured away by a more attractive offer, as Mulayam Singh proved during the last term of UP assembly.

Having acquired political equality the dalits are now hoping to climb the social and economic ladder as well. In fact, most of the benefits meant for poor dalits in the form of various government schemes through the panchayats or through schemes like the PDS or NREGS do not reach them, forcing them to live in situations of extreme poverty and deprivation. BSP must concentrate on these if it seriously intends to carry out upliftment of the dalits. Mayawati must move out of the obsession to indulge in symbolism politics of Ambedkar Parks to more concrete things which will impact the lives of ordinary dalits in the state. There is no denial that politics of symbolism has played an important role in the dalit assertion. The statues of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in every village have given a sense of identity and self-respect to the dalits. This silent movement for the assertion of dalit rights stands in importance next to the freedom struggle and the JP movement in recent history. There has been a feeling of liberation just like in the other two struggles. But having accomplished the political victory the dalit movement has to now chart a course for the social and economic well being of the dalits. Reservations in educational institutions and jobs can help only a small fraction of dalits. We need a blueprint for the development of the ordinary dalit who is too poor to compete. This is the challenge of the future.

The combination with upper caste, especially Brahmins, which is being hailed as potent, has serious pitfalls. The political class which has always cornered all benefits flowing from the system is working overtime to subvert the BSP agenda. There is a danger of the take over of BSP by contractor-mafia raj working through suave upper caste politicians and bureaucrats. Unless Mayawati and the dalit leadership within the party is extremely careful of this attempt of subversion and can be guided by their absolute commitment to the cause of dalits, BSP is in danger of being reduced to any other opportunist political party.

In her past stints as Chief Minister, Mayawati has given little attention to the well being of dalits. Dalits found it as tough to get cases registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as ever and state SC/ST Commission provided no relief either. Matters related to violence against women also suffered a casualty in her regime. Neither did the situation of landless dalits, hoping to take possession of their legitimate pieces of land allotted to them by the panchayats, improved. All the other benefits through the panchayats continued to be siphoned-off by the unscrupulous elements. There was no clamp on corruption in the various schemes which could have possibly resulted in more benefits flowing to the dalits. With the possible exception of Ambedkar villages there was no overall improvement in delivery efficiency of the administrative system or justice to the poor.

It is hoped that a more mature Mayawati, having survived the Taj Corridor folly, would probably bring governance and development on her agenda and go down in history as more than a politician who indulged in politics of symbolism.
Indian Express, 26 June 2007
The New Indian Express
26 June 2007