Friday, 1 May 2009

Mayawati and the Middle Class

I am getting a bit tired of all criticism of the idea of Mayawati as Prime Minister being attributed to urban English-speaking middle class snobbery and a class prejudice. I have seen several commentators take this line in recent months, the latest being Suryakant Waghmore in today's Indian Express.

I am quoting from his article (to which I have provided a link) only because I have it in front of me, but the points that he makes have been made by several others.

First he says "while the English speaking middle class largely opposes Mayawati because of her caste, they do 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."

Now this is patently ridiculous. I have a sneaking admiration for Mayawati for where she has taken the BSP. I am sure that she could not have done this if it were not for Kanshi Ram's patronage, but I concede that she could have wasted that patronage but did not. I fully agree with Waghmore that "Mayawati and BSP's growth represents the deepening of democracy in India."

But look beyond that. What else is Mayawati known for? Personal aggrandisement and corruption. Has she done anything for Dalits or for the state in each of her tenures? Or even the current tenure, when the BSP has a complete majority? Apart from building statues and monstrous memorials, that is? Waghmore comments on English speaking middle class obsession with her statues. But why shouldn't that be subject to criticism? Is that a measure of development of the state or the uplift of Dalits? When, in 2007, Mayawati came to power on the basis of a new social coalition, eschewing the upper caste hatred that had marked the BSP's politics till then, many expected that this would be a sobering influence on her and that she would behave in a more responsible way, focussing on administration and good governance. Two years on, can anyone testify that she has done that? She appeared to be making some right moves in the beginning, especially on the economic front. But she quickly backtracked. The counter argument is that the Mulayam Singh was equally bad. Sure, but the thought of Mulayam Singh as Prime Minister will also frighten a lot of people. Sure no government has ever done anything for Dalit uplift. But does that mean Mayawati should not be criticised for doing nothing for the group she claims to work for?

Arguments like Waghmore's precludes the possibility of the urban middle class reacting to issues like corruption and personal aggrandisement. Despite my cynicism about its apathy, I think this is an unfair charge. The middle class was quite accepting of a Dalit as president and now as Chief Justice of India. If it was reacting purely on the basis of prejudice, then there would have been equally sharp reactions to these appointments.

I am an English speaking urban middle class Iyengar Brahmin. I am petrified at the thought of Mayawati as Prime Minister. But I am equally petrified at the thought of J Jayalalitha (who is not a Dalit but an English speaking urban middle class Iyengar Brahmin) becoming Prime Minister. Because Jayalalitha's regimes have also been marked by rampant corruption and a highly personalised style of functioning. Just like Mayawati.

I am petrified at the thought of Lalu Yadav becoming Prime Minister. Not because he is a Yadav or because of his rustic ways, but because of the way he ruined Bihar. I am more comfortable with the idea of Nitish Kumar as Prime Minister, even though he is a Kurmi and though he is an engineer by education, he is not an English speaking urban middle class person. I am petrified of Ram Vilas Paswan becoming Prime Minister one day not because he is a Dalit but because of stories about his corrupt ways. But I am also petrified of Kamal Nath, an English-speaking urban middle class person, becoming Prime Minister (never mind that he probably doesn't have those ambitions) again because of his reputation for corruption.

Behind such insinuations of the kind Waghmore makes is the belief that Mayawati should not be opposed or criticised just because she is a Dalit. This is carrying the politics of victimhood a bit too far.


sumitra srinivasan said...

Couldn't agree with you more. this whole "oh we can't criticise Dallits if you're upper class" is taken a bit too far, by the Dalits themselves! They tend to use it to show how "oppressed" they still are. and anyone/political class/caste not open to criticism is actually just setting themselves up for failure/acceptance by a broader base.

Vivek said...

Very relevant points. Mayawati reminds me of Lalu Prasad Yadav during his first term as CM... He made comments like development does not get you to that extent Maywati seems to be following his strategy of portraying herself as dalit ki beti and getting the votes...but the UP voter like the Bihari voter will catch up in sometime I guess and finally vote for development...

And of course wihtout Kanshi Ram there would have been no Mayawati...