Mayawati gave her resignation from Rajya Sabha complaining that she was not allowed to speak on the issue of violence against Dalits, particularly in Saharanpur.
It has made for headlines but her resignation is not going to register with the Dalit community, as her argument is not in sync with economic realities and aspirations of ‘Dalit-Hindus’.
Clearly, Mayawati is in crisis. It is a crisis of language. She is talking in the old middle class NGO language, which is not going to resonate with the larger section of Dalit community. The community is changing, or rather evolving, constantly. Dalits today are not what they used to be twenty years ago. Many of them are now wealthy and aspiring to integrate themselves with the larger identity of being a Hindu, which is why a large section is moving towards Dalit-Hindu aspirations.
Even in this time of crisis, there is no denying that Mayawati is a big fort of Dalit identity, and it’s too early to count her out. Having said that, if she does not change her language and align it with new Dalit aspirations, she will lose the game to the RSS. I say RSS because she is in clear confrontation with the Sangh for Dalit support, and not with the BJP.
There is a reason behind this contest. Changes have taken place in the community due to economic growth and now Mayawati is facing problems in communicating with a section of her own community that is empowered and wants her to speak aspirational language.
Dalits today are not a homogenous group. The inflow of wealth has made this community a heterogeneous one.
If we look at the Jatav caste, which is her core vote base, the wealthy ones are moving towards a Dalit-Hindu identity. Add to that, wealth has also earned them respect in society. But that is not enough. They want full respect and total equality. For this, one needs religion. The RSS is working on the ground to bring Jatavs closer to Hindu identity through rituals. Jatavs find respect in following these rituals and there is a feel good factor. Now, coming to the invisible Dalit caste, those who are illiterate their struggle is about development, and most importantly social respect, which comes with socio-religious integration in the society.
Their need for dignity and respect is being heard by the RSS, and it is speaking in a language that offers them social respect.
The community wants integration with social respect and Sangh is listening to it. On the other hand, Mayawati is stuck in the ‘Dalit middle-class language’.
For Mayawati to develop this language, she needs to interact with the community at the grassroots, Kanshi Ram practiced it but she did not. It’s time for her to speak in the pre-political language.
With political realities looming large over her in the form of poor electoral performance in Uttar Pradesh polls, where her community did not vote for her, she needs to understand the new want of her community. It is quite possible that Dalits are voting for the BJP because of the RSS and not because of the party itself. That’s why I say, Mayawati is contesting with the RSS and not with the BJP. This is the war of language between the RSS and Mayawati.
The changes in the community’s economic status have made them want a pie of the Hindu identity. The two are not contesting, instead complementing each other. She has to appeal to both Ambedkarite and Hindu aspirations. Else, she will become irrelevant.
-- As told to Eram Agha
(Badri Narayan is professor, Centre for the study of Discrimination and Exclusion, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal.)