March 21, 2010 2 Comments
The brazen act of UP CM Mayawati accepting a garland of currency has made headline news. Every one self-anointed expert or otherwise seem to have a view on the ‘Garland gate’ as it is known now.
Television anchors are busy debating the issue on the propriety or the lack of it in the gesture. The debate follows the predictable pattern. Political parties are predictably divided in their opinion, the Dalit community effervescent in their defence of Behen-ji while the English speaking elite which has always been derisive of Mayawati has yet another axe to grind.
While the focus of these discussions have ranged from the obvious issue of corruption to the sheer impunity of the exercise, I feel the important aspect of psyche has not received the attention it deserves.
Psyche plays an important part on how a certain action is viewed or perceived. Hence it is imperative in my view to understand the psyche behind the ostentatious behavior of Mayawati who undoubtedly is seen as the strongest political representative of the oppressed section of Indian society, the Dalits.
That the Dalits have been at the receiving end of the social hierarchy is saying the very obvious. While the Brahmins who were at the totem pole of the caste hierarchy denied the religious and educational rights of the Dalits, those in the next rungs caused economic deprivation to the Dalits.
It has taken more than 6 decades for someone from the Dalit community to stake a claim to the gaddi at Delhi. Congress pursued their agenda of furthering the political legacy of Nehru family while securing the Dalit as a vote bank. Infact BMW – Brahmins Muslims and Weaker Sections (read Dalits) – were the ingredients of the political constituency of Congress which was used by it and riding on TINA – There Is No Alternative – they retained power.
Congress ensured that a representative face from the Dalit community was always part of their political machinations, but they were mostly relegated to inconsequential roles. Either they were Governors or the President of India.
The impact of this political under-representation was not understood by the upper castes of this country whose constitution, the foundation of the political system, was ironically architected by the messiah of Dailts, Dr B R Ambedkar. This severely dented the psyche of the Dalits.
Despite some tall political leaders of the stature of Dr Ambedkar and Jag Jivan Ram, the Dalits never got their political due in the Congress. Till the emergence of Kanshi Ram in the largest state of India Uttar Pradesh, the Dalits didn’t have a credible political alternative to the Congress.
Though the initial plank of Kanshi Ram was to oppose the Manuwadi class (read Brahmins) he quickly realized that the next rung in the caste hierarchy was equally opposed to the political emancipation of the Dalits. This is very well demonstrated by the fact that the biggest political opponent of the BSP is the SP, the party of the OBC Yadavs.
What Mayawati means to the millions of the languishing Dalit is a person of their community who is able to take on those sections of the society which were instrumental in their oppression. That someone from their community could be such a potent political opposition is a matter of immense pride and gratification to them. In that sense, the garland of notes, despite the obvious overtures of corruption is a reaffirmation of the faith of the Dalits in their political savior.
Indian Sociologists have often argued that our society is very unforgiving on caste despite economic success. But the role of money in leveling societal differences can never be ignored. Though the vice grip of caste has been weakened by the inter-caste marriages, they have not successfully bridged the economic divide. Actually, higher economic status has played a pivotal role in obfuscating the caste differences which have been relegated to the background.
Apart from political representation, there are some shining examples of members from the Dalit community who have made to the top echelons of their chosen field purely on merit. Dr Narendra Jadav and the incumbent CJI, Justice K G Balakrishnan come to mind as prominent examples of this success. Despite these examples, there are not many examples of damningly rich, flatulent personalities among the Dalits which would make their representation complete in all spheres of life.
Mayawati seeks to bridge this very gap for her community even if she has carried it too far. Dr Ambedkar was one of the persons who stood up to Gandhi in terms of not abandoning his western attire for simplicity. The western attire was an important component of Ambedkar’s strategy of changing the public perception of the Dalits.
Claiming to be representing of Ambedkar’s legacy, it is an important psychological impetus for Mayawati to flaunt her riches, even if they have been acquired by less than honourable methods. In effect, through her riches she is throwing the gauntlet at the blue line legacy of the Nehru family and similar such families in the political sphere such as that of the Scindias, Pilots and Abdullahs to name a few.
Mayawati’s message is loud and clear. If you can do it, even we can do it. She wants to demonstrate that her political base is solidly behind her and they are proud of her upward mobility. She is so confident of her political base that she does not mind the brazenness of ostentatious behavior.
Of course this is not an attempt to justify the act, but it is very important to understand the underlying psyche. The elite has been harsh on her which is generally justified but the continuous ignoring of the aspirations of the oppressed sections is likely to throw up more Maywatis before long. While it is easy to criticize, those who are opposed to such vulgar display of wealth should introspect on what they have done to provide a level playing field to the oppressed sections.
As to the Dalit community, it is fine to eulogize Mayawati and see in her, the fulfillment of their long standing aspirations even if it is highly representative. It should be a matter of serious concern to the community that the leader who is seen as their emancipator is doing less and less for their actual welfare even if she is politically asserting herself.
Parks, Elephant statues and currency garlands may do a lot for the pride and psyche of the Dalits but the community must recognize that there is a long way to go for their economic and social liberations. It is high time that they hold Maywati accountable for their welfare. If they fail to do so, it will be such a tragedy.