Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

Anatomy of a prejudice

How the English-speaking middle class can stop worrying and learn to love Mayawati

Why is the capacity,or merit of Mayawati generally questioned by the privileged castes among the English-speaking middle class? Is this associated with her being a Dalit? The politically correct answer is ‘no’,the Indian middle class is not casteist,and caste is withering away from urban India. The truth however may be a little different — while the English speaking middle class largely opposes Mayawati because of her caste,they do not not express this by hurling caste abuses. They try to respond (not react) through English politeness and thus create a new English speaking middle class caste-culture.  

 This,surely,runs contrary to a truly liberal attitude that would have celebrated Mayawati’s great success and recognised what she has done as a single Dalit woman without any family legacy, in a highly patriarchal and hostile environment.. She wears no religious symbols even while campaigning and uses her maiden name. On the other hand,we are yet to understand why lakhs of people attend Mayawati’s rallies despite her not speaking on foreign or economic policy (let’s leave aside for now the BSP’s stance on the nuclear deal or minimum wages in UP,or the distribution of government land to landless,or reservations in the state assisted private sector, or girl child education). Those who attend these rallies include scheduled castes and those from other deprived communities like Muslims,OBCs and the occasional Brahmins as well.  

 Interestingly,Mayawati is the only politician in India who dares to construct her own statues. This seems to be another obsession of the English speaking middle classes. However,ground realities indicate that Mayawati’s charisma extends beyond UP. If one is to go by the admiration for her among BSP cadre,then it is likely that Mayawati’s statues will soon be seen beyond UP soon,and those who predict otherwise this parliamentary election are in for some surprises. The BSP cadre’s effort is self-evident — look at Maharashtra,where the BSP has merged its cadre power with the financial power of its candidates,who come from various castes and religions. Here,the BSP’s performance is likely to be much better in terms of voteshare and number of seats.

 The English speaking middle classes are thus not able to comprehend the reality and feasibility of a Dalit woman who is a CM (without availing reservations) and aspires to be PM. It is,further,shocking that she is assertive about being a Dalit and still claims to be an Indian. She ends every election speech with Jai Bhim (Victory to Ambedkar) and Jai Bharat. Unfortunately for the English-speaking middle classes even the BSP’s Brahmin leader Satish Chandra Mishra does the same,because of his faith in Behenji’s politics and vision.  

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The BSP’s politics may trouble the popular conception of Indianness,among English speaking middle classes,who understand India as one whole,where the ‘Indian’ identity dominates and the rest,which reflect real India (inequality and conflicts) are hushed up. On the other hand,the BSP’s politics reiterates that India is a country of various minorities (castes,religions,regions) who may be victimised by fellow Indians in different contexts. Emphasising the BSP or Mayawati’s Dalitness ignores the complexity of caste society and associated politics. Kanshiram in the past and Mayawati now raise issues of caste not to sustain inequality but to challenge them. What Mayawati and BSP’s growth represents is the deepening of democracy in India.   

The politics of the BSP,led by Kanshiram and Mayawati,has simply turned the Congress’s ‘secular’ politics on its head. The ‘secularism’ of Congress historically kept power with certain elite castes/classes. The Congress formed scheduled caste cells and minority cells; it gained the support of scheduled castes by splitting their leaders,while the minorities were made to live under impending threat of Hindutva forces. The secular Congress failed to produce a single Muslim chief minister in its long celebrated rule. Such secularism can best be termed as unequal secularism that sustained political inequality.  

There can be good economic reasons for the English speaking middle classes to support the BSP and Mayawati. One of the major threats posed to corporate India vis-à-vis the English speaking middle class in the long run,is from the Naxalites. They need to realise that Mayawati pursues her politics through the ballot and not the bullet,thus strengthening democracy and its institutions. The BSP’s politics,though shrewd,gives hope to the most deprived groups like Dalits,some of whom have been misguided enough to choose the violent of Naxalism in various states.  



The writer is assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences

First published on: 01-05-2009 at 00:09 IST
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