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Mayawati Still the Queen, But Where Are The Courtiers?

VVP Sharma @vvemuri

Updated: July 18, 2017, 2:15 PM IST
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Mayawati Still the Queen, But Where Are The Courtiers?
File photo of BSP chief Mayawati.
Mayawati walked off the Rajya Sabha in a huff today. She even threatened to resign her seat. She took this step because she could no longer tolerate the continuing discrimination of Dalits, including her, she told the House.

But everyone knew the truth. She retires next April without the ability to return for a fresh term. She is the lone member of her BSP in the entire Parliament. In Uttar Pradesh, a state she ruled four times as chief minister, she has just 19 MLAs. She can’t even enter the legislative council in Lucknow, with that strength.

Mayawati cut a forlorn figure as she gathered herself up in a huff and stomped off and out of the Rajya Sabha today. The House continued its business, oblivious to the problem of the lady who was once described by late PV Narasimha Rao as a “miracle of democracy” and by Newsweek as the Barack Obama of India!

Her problem is simple: She is a leader without her cadre. She is no longer the unquestioned Dalit leader of India. Rohit Vemula , when he was alive, became a Dalit youth icon in no time. Chandrasekhar emerged a Dalit leader of western UP on his own terms. Jignesh Mevani rules the roast in western Gujarat. It’s as if the younger Dalit generation simply passed her by, her legacy or the lack of it packed in a small backpack that’s easy for her to carry home.

She must be ruing the current period of her life, a queen without the throne and even courtiers. Her support base – the 20-odd per cent Dalit vote – that she took for granted began to erode gradually; the rate of erosion faster in each election. In the last few years, India had changed. More importantly, its youth had changed. The Dalit youth more so, armed with education, full of aspiration, looking for a messiah to deliver them from Dalithood. Many of them saw in Narendra Modi the deliverer as he played the Pied Piper in 2014. In many houses across the country, Mayawati was told that the father voted BSP while the son voted BJP. That the Dalit youth are now beginning to express disenchantment with the BJP because most of their aspirations remained where they were comes as no consolation to the lady.

The disillusioned Dalit youth did not return to the Mayawati fold. Instead, they went back into history and dug up their icon from the dust heap. The icon was neither Mayawati nor Kanshiram, but Ambedkar himself. Ambedkar, for these young Dalits, today, represents the confident young Dalit who is able to confront and beat the social system with education and employment. In political terms, these Dalits, as a segment of the population, don’t have a political icon as of now. But that’s a different story. These youth invest in the Bhim Sena or political fora with the “Bhim” prefix. Not BSP. Because they don’t want to be associated with the caste grime.

Flash back to October 11, 2006, at 11, Humanyun Road, New Delhi. Mayawati was convinced by her advisors to meet the Press. She had cremated her political guru Kanshi Ram just the previous day. She came out into the main hall. She looked weary, no trace of any emotion. No shrillness in her voice either, though one could notice a new, quiet determination in her. She took the blessings of some Buddhist monks present there and told the journalists:
“Main manyawar Kanshi Ram ki ek matra rajkiya uttaradhikari hun.”

Some saw in it a factual statement. Some saw in it an ego rising its head. Yet others saw the birth of an autocrat willing to emerge, once and for all, from the shadow of her mentor, firmly dead and cremated. Kanshi Ram, who suffered a stroke in 2003, was under Mayawati’s forced care – his family kept away from him till his death in 2006. He had announced her as his successor in 2001 itself. She was a leader in her own right by then, having been chief minister already. Just before he suffered the stroke, Kanshi Ram said he would convert to Buddhism on October 14, 2006 – the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar’s conversion to that religion. That was not to be. He died on October 9.

Mayawati referred to his last wish. She said she told him they couldn’t convert on that date as their task was still incomplete. The BSP was yet to secure majority in the Lok Sabha and she was yet to become Prime Minister! The media quoted her as saying: "Kanshi Ram and me had decided that we will convert and adopt Buddhism when we will get "absolute majority" at the Centre. We wanted to do this because we can make a difference to the religion by taking along with us millions of people. If we convert without power then only we two will be converting. But when you have power you can really create a stir."

She became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times. Her party returned favourable numbers in successive general elections. She became the undisputed Dalit leader. She became rich. She was mired in controversies. Developmental issues took a back seat. Dalit aspirations remained where they were. The Dalits were useful to her only as a solid, political bloc of votes. Nothing more. She never tried to build on the Dalit concept after Kanshi Ram’s death. She was content on enjoying the “asset” he left her. Where Dalits demanded affirmative action, Mayawati gave them parks and statues. She ordered a district jail to be demolished to build a memorial for Kanshi Ram!

Mayawati was aware of the subterranean Dalit unrest. She was also aware of the forward caste unrest with the Congress. She had no qualms about diluting her Dalit card which suited her campaign in the 2007 UP elections and the 2009 general elections. She coined the slogan: “Haathi nahin, Ganesh hain, Brahma, Vishnu Mahesh Hain” (The elephant – the BSP symbol – actually represents not just the Dalits but the Trimurthi rolled into one.) Contrast this with Kanshi Ram’s slogan when he founded the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4) in 1981: “Brahmin, thakur, bania chor, baaki sub hain DS-4.” Anyway, she became chief minister with full majority.

But it was all downhill thereafter. So much so, that on the 10th death anniversary of Kanshi Ram in 2016, Mayawati had to hire hundreds of trains and buses to cart Dalits over to the Kanshi Ram Smarak Maidan in Lucknow. One of her contemporaries, RK Chaudhary, who was close to Kanshi Ram like her, and who had quit the party earlier that year, held a small prayer meeting for his mentor. He was quoted by the media as saying: “Mayawati says Kanshi Ram handed over the legacy to her... Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram’s ideology and movement for social change are not something that can be turned into a private company."

Mayawati Prabhu Das needs to do just one thing to make herself relevant to the Dalits – that is to complete a single task she promised Kanshi Ram. She summarized the task in her own words, as quoted by the media the day after Kanshi Ram’s death: "Ambedkar gave us the Constitution which gave advantages to the exploited classes but he could not implement those ideals. Kanshi Ram tried to fulfill Ambedkar's dreams but since he too died before he could realise it. I'll carry forward their incomplete work to get absolute majority for the marginalised people. I will convert to Buddhism after that." Do the Dalits seem to still be patient, after all these years?
First Published: July 18, 2017, 2:09 PM IST

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