Tuesday, April 8, 2008


The knives are out and the battle has now truly been joined in UP.

The rumblings had started some months back, after the Congress was badly mauled in the state elections that followed the one in UP last year. The bravado of dumping Mulayam Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) on the imagined strength of Brand Rahul Gandhi had given way to the sobering reality that the Congress was falling into a bottomless pit. The strategy of trying to alternatively clutch and combat the two strong planks that had become powerful on the strength of the very vote banks that had been the property of the Congress party for decades was clearly a dismal flop.

This time, the Congress has decided that Mayawati is the one to take on and defeat in its battle to get to the seat of power in Delhi after the ensuing general elections. Leading the charge is the dynamic Rahul Gandhi who has taken it upon himself to single handedly, with a little help from mom, get Mayawati’s foot soldiers, the dalits, into the Congress camp.

Mayawati, after analysing the new challenge thrown by the Delhi Duo of the Congress, has struck back in a manner which the sophisticated and disconnected lot of analysts and politicians are dismissing as crass and not worthy of dignifying! But, the riposte is not meant for cozy drawing room analysis. It is meant for the dalits whom Rahul Gandhi is trying to get to desert Mayawati. And they, deprived of human dignity and empowerment for generations, will get that message loud and clear.

For them, when Mayawati says that Rahul Gandhi after staying in a dalit house “cleanses” himself by bathing with a special soap, followed by ‘dhoop and agarbatti’, it is a stark reminder of the reality of humiliation that many upper caste men heap on them openly in exactly that manner. We in the cities may have forgotten, but in many rural areas, upper castes still avoid physical contact with dalits, not even sharing water from the same well. And if any physical contact does take place by mistake, bathing and “purification” are the norm. But, when it comes to dalit women, contact is not avoided at all. On the contrary, the most intimate of contacts, sexual, is encouraged and actively sought on many specious grounds including the one that it prevents leprosy!

The timeless message of Mayawati’s attack on Rahul Gandhi is that only a dalit leader will, in his/her heart, treat them with dignity as equals; others are on nothing more than a pretence mission to con them for their votes.

Let us face it. Till Kanshi Ram emerged on the scene that is precisely what was happening in most parts of the country. Dr. BR Ambedkar had lit the first torch of protest against the inhuman inequalities that had risen out of the practice of the caste system. Kanshi Ram rekindled it and took it onto another level. Mayawati is now literally on the verge of actuating the full power of dalits, something that is becoming a reality only because all citizens have the equal right to vote freely and fearlessly.

Most of us know that Rahul Gandhi undergoes no “purification” as Mayawati has alleged. That does not matter. Rahul has, unfortunately, to bear the historical burden that will make most dalits believe that he does.

Mayawati has till now surprised her all her opponents and media luminaries with her political skills and extraordinary intelligence, strengthened manifold by her unbroken connect with the ordinary Indian, particularly the dalit. This latest round of her political battle with the Congress and other upper castes threatened by the rise of dalit power is only going to get nastier and more and more personal. And, there will be many more unexpected responses from Mayawati, the type bright SWOT analysts will never anticipate!

Who is going to emerge stronger at the end of it all? As far as dalits are concerned they will get even more solidly behind Mayawati in UP, thanks to the confused and unending flip-flop of the Congress, its budding friendship with old ally and Mayawati’s arch enemy Mulayam Yadav, the complete absence of credible dalit leadership at any level and the party’s total dependence on the remote and now alien to them Brand Gandhi. There will be a ripple effect in other states too where Mayawati is steadily gaining ground at the expense of the Congress. How big Mayawati can make that ripple will be crucial.

The real challenge for Mayawati is actually not the Congress at all. If she can continue to manage the environment skillfully, that party will in fact be her biggest asset, her ticket to power, at its own expense! Her real challenge is to get more and more people and parties of upper castes on her side and make them accept the leadership and supremacy of a dalit in the national power equation.

Considering the complete lack of morality and conscience that marks India’s political landscape, getting upper caste led political parties and politicians to back her, even prostrate before her, will be the least of her challenges. If she can get just enough non-dalit votes to reach a critical number in Parliament, that spectacle will happen on its own; the unfettered greed of enjoying the spoils of office and power will ensure that they will drool unashamedly and discover never heard of virtues in dalit power.

Don’t be surprised if they then discover even Ma Durga in Mayawati! To be honest, she has already shown enough courage and strength for people to see the Goddess in her. Had she not been a dalit, they would have surely seen that by now. That is the real “cleansing” that they, indeed us all, need to be put through, to rid ourselves of the burden of shame of many generations. In this multi-layered battle for Delhi, it is for us to help Mayawati show the world that the time for it has come.