Mayawati and the rise of Dalit power
Watching the coverage of the UP election results on various channels was illuminating in more ways than one.
The stark disconnect of various presenters and guests, particularly on NDTV, from the dynamics, as it were, of the elections and the real people who voted was painfully palpable.
Our urban elite have been so completely alienated from people living in the rest of India, much like the patronising, condescending and smugly all-knowing Englishmen, they are desperately trying to become, that most were not even able to comprehend that a very fundamental shift was taking place in the social dynamics that effect Indians. Almost like the British who simply could not fathom what Mahatma Gandhi was doing until it was too late!
On NDTV, particularly, the debate anchored by Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt remained stuck in the street-smart rote of petty machinations and manipulations. With a few similarly myopic and dishonest politicians for support, they hopelessly tried to explain why their "intelligent" media representing the superior "English speaking universe" and their supposedly ultra sophisticated predictive models, totally failed not only to foresee what was coming but also to subsequently see what really happened.
The only thing Barkha Dutt saw, as she wrote glibly in the HT, was that the voters were smart!
I recall the exit poll results after the first phase of polling on NDTV. The image that remained glued to my mind was that of Prannoy Roy hyper-excitedly telling viewers like a schoolboy that the "Rahul Gandhi" factor was working exceptionally well, almost in the fond hope that such proclamations would influence voters to vote for the Congress.
This deception continued right till the very end even when all other exit polls were not half as gung-ho about Rahul's impact and the results started coming in. Psephology had obviously taken a backseat to the political agenda of the news channel. Even, when all was lost for the Congress, Roy and Dutt simply could not go beyond the usual brain-dead reasoning and the "analysis" of how the Congress was important to the BSP, particularly because of the Taj corridor case against Mayawati!
Not a word telling the viewers that Rahul Gandhi could get victory for his party in only six of the 108 or so constituencies he vigorously campaigned with virtually saturated media coverage. Such a huge investment of airtime and money wasted... they both seemed more devastated than the Congress for this loss and completely oblivious to the monumental significance of Mayawati's victory.
I must, in all fairness, bring out that the coverage on CNN-IBN was professional, unbiased and quite insightful. Sagarika Ghose, particularly, seemed to grasp the significance of Mayawati's magic and Rahul's rout, having spent some time on the ground during the elections with an obviously intelligent, open and receptive mind. She was dead right when she told Jayanti Natarajan that Dalits and others could no longer be won over by the patronising, condescending, laptop empowerment that the Congress was offering.
Ghose saw, on the ground, the commitment and missionary zeal of BSP workers and what Mayawati's victory meant to them. Before the elections, she even could see BSP getting around 180 seats. Roy, on the other hand, during his brief sojourn to the hot, dusty plains of western UP close to Delhi, not only appeared as if he had been roasted in an oven, but could see nothing except Rahul's big impact and some incendiary speeches made by BJP leaders, as if that would help the Congress.
The UP election signals a tectonic, historical shift in the societal power matrix of Hindu society. And who has Mayawati to thank, among others for seeing and grabbing the opportunity? Mr Mandal, of course, milked to death by completely opportunistic and dishonest politicians thinking they can fool the masses, simply to grab power in the next election.
VP Singh brought Mandal out, not with any visionary belief or empathy for the downtrodden, but simply to create a vote bank for himself. For the same reason, on August 15, while addressing the nation, he declared the Prophet's birthday a national holiday (it is not a holiday even in Pakistan!).
Once the Mandal genie was out of the bag, it simply could not be put back as doing that would cost any political party unacceptably.
Such measures cannot win you votes, as VP discovered, but the political class has yet to. Once I am a declared an OBC, why should I vote for you, that is if I can even pinpoint you as the benefactor? The voter is not fooled. He knows why you have done it and moves on to whom he wants. Someone should have read about Maslowe's Hierarchy of Needs to understand that there would be virtually no political returns to either of these measures.
And, it has taken a Hindi speaking "uncultured" Dalit lady to understand the hidden, but obvious now, ramifications of Mandal so that she can reap its benefits enduringly. Unlike the SCs, who have for thousands of years been deprived of both social and economic empowerment and, therefore, justifiably need support to help them elevate themselves on both dimensions, but cortically the social dimension first, the OBCs are disparate grouping, most of whom do not face social discrimination that the Dalits have endured.
Even Mahatma Gandhi could not discover OBCs as they have now been for petty and ulterior political gain. I recall when riots broke out after VP Singh announced Mandal, Jats protested most vocally for the first couple of days. However, when the news filtered down that Jats were among the OBCs and not upper castes in the Mandal report, they were smart enough to quietly accept the benefits. And, of course you know who they voted for!
I understand there were similar scenes of some other communities too. What this has lead to over time is the feeling among the economically disadvantaged Brahmins and other upper castes that they have no one to take care of their interests and that they have to struggle for advancement with their hands tied behind their backs, while the socially similar, or even better placed OBCs are being courted by everyone.
So when Mayawati, a Dalit, untouchables still in parts of India, asks Brahmins to vote for her and tells them with conviction that they do not have to go begging to anyone to get their due, it touches their raw nerve, and they willingly turn thousands of years of rigid social hierarchy upside down to seek empowerment and justice from a shudra.
Mayawati has envisioned and achieved something, which no politician thought she could.
Of course some urbane armchair "experts" who actually belong to the Page 3 but imagine that they are intelligent and erudite, cannot simply comprehend what an epoch-making change is unfolding, having never experienced caste barriers in their beautiful world.
They need to revisit Mahatma Gandhi to even begin to understand India, much less talk absurd profundities about it on national media. Gandhi may be tough in these times. Mark Tully, a Brit, will be enough to shame them.
I hope Mayawati understands the importance of what she has initiated. With the exceptional intelligence and abilities that she has displayed so far, there appears to be little doubt that she does. If that is correct, Mayawati can bring about the social revolution that both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr BR Ambedkar dreamt of but could not achieve in their lifetime.
In the pursuit of her objective, she will be well advised to continue to ignore the media, or at least the "intelligent" media, like she has done so far.
Vinod Sharma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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