It may be, ironically, Mayawati’s tribute to the Mahatma. Known for its criticism of Mahatma Gandhi in relation to his policies vis-à-vis Dalits, Mayawati’s BSP has suddenly taken a U-turn.
Advertisements placed in newspapers by the Department of U.P. Information and Public Relations on Gandhi Jayanti say: “Gandhiji’s fundamental philosophy is embodied in ‘Sarvajan Hitay and Sarvajan Sukhay’, which is the policy of the Uttar Pradesh government.”
Thus, the Uttar Pradesh government has accepted that the BSP’s Sarvajan (conveying that the party represents all, and not just Dalits) discourse — which brought it to power in the state in 2007 — is the same as Gandhi’s policy of reaching out to all.
The Dalit movement from the days of Ambedkar has, however, maintained that Gandhi was primarily a “caste Hindu leader” who was just patronising Dalits through his Harijan — a term meaning children of God, that Gandhi coined for Dalits — campaigns so as to prevent them from taking up the Ambedkarite line of an autonomous Dalit movement against the Brahmanical social system.
Till now, Mayawati had followed this line.
Last year, while attacking Rahul Gandhi over his visits to Dalit homes, she had extended her criticism to the Mahatma, dubbing him a “natakbaaz” (one who puts up an act). This had earned her criticism from the Congress, BJP and the Samajwadi Party in the state.
In 1997, Mayawati had attacked the coinage of the term ‘Harijan’ by the Mahatma. “If Dalits are children of God, was he the son of Shaitan (the devil)?” she had asked.
Her attacks drew from the belief of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar and BSP mentor Kanshi Ram that the Gandhian approach to Dalits was patronising and in fact reinforced their social subordination.
Through the 1980s, too, both Mayawati and Kanshi Ram attacked Gandhi.
“Gandhism, Kanshi Ram felt, was the modern version of Brahmanism,” political scientist Sudha Pai has written in her book Dalit Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution.