The dismissal of the vice-president of the UP unit of the BJP, Dayashankar Singh, and his subsequent expulsion from the party for his derogatory remarks about BSP president Mayawati have sparked events that speak of both change and continuity in our political life. The fact that virtually all parties, including the BJP, have condemned this shows that the Dalits, whose leader Mayawati is, cannot be ignored anymore. This is a change for the better. The BJP, which has had to face considerable embarrassment after the suicide of a Dalit scholar in Hyderabad, could not afford to be silent at the insult to the charismatic Dalit leader from UP, which is going to the polls next year. Secondly, it also shows Mayawati’s elevation to iconic status among the Dalits, which was not the case 21 years ago, when she was attacked at a guest house in Lucknow in June 1995. Then too vile abuse had been thrown at her but that did not set off the intense condemnation we are seeing now. Today an insult to Mayawati is read as an insult to the Dalits as well.
This much is for the change. But what brought out the aspect of change are ingrained attitudes. It has been a common male trait in India to abuse a woman by using sexual terms that Mr Singh did. Politicians of yore did exercise restraint in this regard at least publicly, but now they seem to have cast off the pretension of doing so. Second, how far was the expelled BJP leader sure of the charge of auctioning party tickets that he had brought against Mayawati? In doing so, he merely played to the drumbeat of a view that is being orchestrated by another expelled leader but belonging to the BSP. Both should have known that such methods do not work in this day and age. But still politicians of all parties have the habit of creating a miasma of corruption around their political opponents, without sparing a thought for how such aggression will be received by the people they are trying to influence.
Finally, the manner in which BSP workers protested in Lucknow on Thursday showed that good change pales before vulgarities that dominate our public discourse. Not content with asking for the arrest of Mr Singh, some of them have gone to the extent of asking for his ‘hanging’. An award has also been declared for slitting Mr Singh’s tongue. Such animosities feed on one another, and prepare the soil for certain types of crassness that should have been a thing of the past long ago.