The Ansari brothers ---- famous for their family’s contribution in country’s freedom movement and infamous for Mukhtar Ansari’s tryst with crime ---- silently followed Mayawati’s rigid household rules, walking barefoot at her official residence at the merger ceremony of Quami Ekta Dal with the BSP recently.
This was not the first time visitors walked barefoot before entering her home or office but Mayawati offered an explanation for the first time ever: “My official residence is a sacred place, a memorial of BSP founder Kanshi Ram, which is revered by the Dalits. Ansaris have respected Indian traditions.”
Mayawati knew photographs of Ansaris walking barefoot would not go down well with the community she is trying to win over in polls, and hence the explanation. It all started in late 1990’s when a Dalit temple that had life-size statues of BR Ambedkar, Mayawati, Kanshi Ram and other Dalit icons was thrown open to the public.
Mayawati was then the chief minister of the state. The visitors had taken off their shoes, walked on the marble steps in the June heat. Many of her supporters claimed their leader had partially won her battle in a state where even today many Dalit women are forced to take off their chappals while walking past upper caste villages. Mayawati too had suffered such social discrimination.
Now upper caste leaders not only take off chappals but also touch her feet. The humiliation of Bahujan Samaj in a caste-conscious society had thus been avenged.
THE SOCIAL MISSION OF KANSHI RAM
Political empowerment became the key to their social uplift. But today the social mission that Kanshi Ram had converted into a political movement to empower Dalits in the mid 1980’s is in a jeopardy.
His party faces heaviest odds in a high-stake electoral battle for Uttar Pradesh. And while other stakeholders would be losing an election, the BSP’s defeat will weaken the movement.
After the BSP’s spectacular performance in 2007, many had then expected expansion of the party to other states as there was no other Dalit leader who could match Mayawati’s stature and style.
She became a symbol of Dalit empowerment, unlike Jagjivan Ram’s daughter Meira Kumar, who never used her Dalit status to garner public support.
Kanshi Ram died in 2006. Along with that his mission also drifted as Mayawati could not handle power independently. Without her mentor she grew lonely as she initially kept her family members also away from her public life. Insecurity gripped her and she became inaccessible.
In the process, Kanshi Ram’s mission of Dalit empowerment was diluted as she joined the race for power opening doors for Brahmins and Muslims. In the process, she started losing her support base of Dalits, reflected in her party’s falling performance in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In 2012, she lost UP .
The 2017 elections is an opportunity to Mayawati to reestablish the BSP in UP, as a party which may be down but not out. The state has preferred regional parties to national players in assembly polls.
But again in her desperation to win the elections, she has moved away from the slogan of Dalit empowerment to politics of communal polarisation. While she was eyeing the combined strength of Dalits and Muslims to propel her to power, the Congress-SP alliance threw a spanner in her strategy of mobilising the Muslims, who are determined to see the BJP out.
Mayawati knows it is now or never for her as well as the party she commands.