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Craving for Equality: The Rs 200 crore Extravaganza

March 16, 2010

There has been much hue and cry about the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Maha-rally on the occasion of the birthday of the founder of the party, Late Kanshi Ram. The statistics are impressive. A Rs 200 crore bash where 12,000 buses were hired to bring party workers from all over the state. Ten crores for furniture and shamianas; a few crores for temporary toilets; more than ten crore for catering and refreshments, the list is never ending. And to top it all a huge garland made of Rs 1000 currency notes, estimated at Rs 5 crores offered to Mayawati by the Karnataka wing of the party. The arena had turned blue – the color of the party. Suffice to say that this was one bash that had no equal. It was a mammoth extravaganza, quite akin to the symbol of the party – the elephant.

Critics have gone to town criticizing Mayawati for her excesses. They have a point. A poor state like Uttar Pradesh where there are a plethora of problems, such obvious ostentatious spending will be questioned. But this is not the first time that Mayawati has been on a spending spree. She has spent crores of rupees on parks and statues of herself, Kanshi Ram (her mentor) and Babasaheb Ambedkar. So much so that a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court, and she has had to stop further construction. The question is why is Mayawati going on such ‘frivolous’ spending spree. The irony, if one may call it that is that her party’s influence is increasing and she has won a good percentage of seats that have gone for by-polls. It is true that the money spent on such ridiculous projects could be better used for the welfare of the poorest of the poor who happen to be from the same strata of society that she belongs to – the Dalits. She has obviously not done enough for her own people – the Dalits, and that should surprise some. Her frivolous spending should rationally have been rejected by her constituency. Yet she is on a political high. In her speech, Mayawati outlined how she found hurdles all the way, and yet she managed to win. She also pointed out that the votes of her party being transferable all parties were keen to have political alliance with the BSP. there is some truth in that assertion. BSP has a solid mass base and the reality of the political situation is that BSP is expanding in the country like no other party. She has made inroads into Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and even Karnataka. The reason is simple – Dalits are everywhere and therefore, if Behenji (as Mayawati is called) can strike a chord with the lowest of the strata, she is sure to get a good political response.

The question remains that when she is not doing anything substantial for the Dalits, why do they still vote for her? The answer lies in a brief conversation between a Dalit and a TV reporter who asked this very same question. The Dalit explained quite frankly that even if Behenji does not do anything for them, they still will vote for her, because when she is in power the higher caste people do not dare take advantage of the lower caste in the village. Otherwise, their life is hell and they are heckled and jeered and their women are misbehaved with. This tragic but real situation in the towns and villages of India has not changed for millennia. The Dalits are treated as less than humans and the atrocities committed are blatant. Not that the government has not taken any steps to curb this menace, there are laws against Dalit utpiran (atrocities) but the process is cumbersome. Besides how does one report every catcall, every swear word and every time one is slighted? Behenji gives a sense of respectability that the Dalits so crave for. A Rs 200 crore extravaganza is nothing for them. She may spend another Rs 2000 crores, for all they care. When she is flaunting wealth, she is in effect saying that we Dalits are no less than anyone else. She is seen as a hero among the Dalits and people of the lower castes. She is a super woman who can do no wrong. She has enabled the Dalits to walk with their heads held high. That is such a departure from what they are used to that they see her as a goddess!! The statues are a manifestation of the aspirations of the people. I know she is going overboard, but the girl who was heckled and jeered as a young woman in her village has not forgotten what she went through. Does she care about money – no!! Her craving is for acceptability and respect in society – for equality and equal opportunity.

Other parties are also trying to give the Dalits space. But when they have a hero from among their own, they will be damned if they go with a begging bowl to another party. They will stand by Behenji – come what may. The good news for Mayawati and the Dalits of this country is that their percentage is more than 35% and that is a huge chunk of the population. Political aspirants from upper castes now see in the BSP an opportunity and are joining the party in huge numbers. Mayawati, being an astute politician has stopped rejecting these aspirants from Brahmin, Rajput and Baniya communities and is using them to good effect. She does not shy away from giving ticket to a Brahmin or a Rajput in constituencies where their numbers are impressive. Her arithmetic is clear, the Dalits will blindly vote for the BSP and if with them a section of Brahmins or Rajputs (as the case may be) also vote, her candidate is sure to win. BSP has now seen an influx of people from the upper caste in the party. The good news for the Dalits is that those from the upper caste cannot now treat them badly as they have become one of their own. The recent rally saw people from all castes eating together. There is a social transformation and while the warts in the mind will still take some time to go, Behenji has ensured that those from upper caste cannot avoid but mingle with the lower caste. And that is a huge achievement.

There is another interesting theory doing the rounds among the Dalits and the people of backward castes. They have realized that we Indians look up to those who can speak English. This is a social baggage that we have been unable to shake off our backs from the times when the British were here.  Knowledge of English has been a boon for the country, but the lower strata of society believe that if they can learn the language, they will then be accepted by the society as equals. I know this is a convoluted sense of equality, but this just goes to show as to how badly suppressed and subjugated a section of the society has been over the centuries and how desperate they are to be treated as equals.

The rise of the BSP has seen a change is societal imbalances. There was a slogan that was doing the rounds in the BSP rally – Bramha, Vishnu Mahesh hain, Haathi nahi Ganesh hai!!! {Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh, (the holy trinity in the Hindu pantheon), the elephant (symbol of the BSP) is a manifestation of Lord Ganesh (half human, half elephant)} This was an attempt at asserting that the Dalits are very much a part of the Hindu mainstream. Till such time that there is social equilibrium, there will be an urge to outdo the other and try and assert oneself. What Mayawati is doing is an attempt at correcting this lopsided social structure that will take some time to find that balance when all can say that they belong.

Update 17.03.2010: There has been such an uproar in the parliament over Mayawati’s extravaganza that the Lok Sabha had to be adjourned. The Rs 1000 notes garland is being discussed a lot. While the BSP says that the garland was worth Rs 21 lakhs, Digvijay Singh of the Congress has asserted that according to his calculation it was worth 22 crore 50 lakh!!! This jamboree has seen Mayawati become the talk of the nation. The lady is quite, and perhaps enjoying herself to the hilt.

There was a comic side to this tamasha too. Near the podium from where Mayawati addressed the gathering, there was a beehive. Mayawati claims this was a deliberate threat to her life and has ordered an enquiry headed by the Director General of Police!!! I may add that while the bees did hover around for sometime while Behenji was speaking, they then dispersed leaving the place. Meanwhile, cocking a snook at her detractors Mayawati has accepted another garland made of currency notes worth Rs 18 lakhs.

Update 17.03.2010: This is a story that appeared in The Hindu yesterday. This is a mild story, the atrocities on Dalits are gory and unpalatable. But this story shows how badly the Dalits are looking for acceptance and how parochial caste Hindus are. This only endorses that the Dalits are looking for acceptance. Above this story was a picture of beaming Dalits having been allowed into the temple that they have cleaned and played the drums outside for generations. The full text of the story is as below:

MYSORE: For the first time in their lives over 100 Dalits of Kannali village in Mandya district entered Chennakeshavaswamy and Eshwara temples on Tuesday.

Though they had served the village deities by beating drums during festivals and cleaning the temple premises, they were barred from entering the temple. Overjoyed by the newly acquired right, the Dalits offered special prayers.

All this came about as a fall out of an incident where a Dalit was attacked by “caste” Hindus. During a festival on March 13, Chandu (28) a Dalit youth climbed ‘one’ step of the Chennakeshavaswamy temple while beating the drums. Enraged by this, some of the “caste” Hindus attacked and abused him.

Some educated Dalit youth decided to register a complaint with the police and met station head of Mandya rural police. However, the police did not register the complaint immediately but said they would do so the next day.

Meanwhile, Mandya MLA Srinivas convened a meeting of the Dalits and “caste” Hindus to bring about a compromise.

Responding to the MLA’s plea, Kempaih (50) Dalit leader of Kannali said they would not press charges if they were allowed to enter the village temple, hotel and barber shop. The “caste” Hindus agreed reluctantly and assured them that changes would be made in phases.

Negotiation

However, the Dalits insisted that they be allowed into the temples on Ugadi. Finally, the “caste” Hindus yielded to pressure said, Vasu of Karnataka Janapara Vedike, who was with the Dalits when they entered the temple on Tuesday. Mr. Kempaih said Tuesday was a historic day in the life of the Dalits, he added.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. arun permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:02 am

    I beg to differ!wasting crores of rupees to prove that the dalits are equal is unacceptable! the dalits may be proud of her rise, but they are no fools to appriciate the monstrous wastage of money, when they themselves are starving!!

    • sharma24 permalink*
      March 17, 2010 1:17 am

      You have a point. But she still is seen as one of their own who has taken on the traditional ruling classes, and given the downtrodden a voice. That pride in Behenji is something that is precious to them. The security and acceptability is another reason. I hope Mayawati gets down to doing something substantial for the Dalits of our country.

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