Wednesday, April 2, 2008

MAYAWATI'S MANNA: CONGRESS’S CONFUSION, TIKAIT’S TAUNT

Recent political developments in UP have been perplexing, to say the least. Alarmed by Mayawati’s rise and rise, her opponents, instead of developing coherent strategies to clip her growing wings, have played right into her hands. They have, with bizarre logic, given her an advantage that even she would have found difficult to create with her own efforts.

Let us take the Congress party first. Till early last year, it was an ally of the Samajwadi Party (SP) which was ruling the state. Then, a couple of months before the state elections, the party decided that the SP was leading a “goonda raj” and became its sworn enemy overnight. So much so that when the Congress lay in ruins after the elections despite the much hoped and hyped entry of Rahul Gandhi into state politics and electioneering, sycophantic ‘leaders’ of the party claimed victory on the most absurd and demeaning ground that they had succeeded in defeating the SP!

Then began the cozying up to Mayawati, who overnight became the party’s friend! To ensure her support for its nominee for the President, the Congress got its stooge governor to deny sanction to prosecute Mayawati in the famous Taj Corridor Case. The party then thought it had Mayawati in the bag as an able ally.

After facing defeat in other state elections, thanks in no small measure to Mayawati successfully poaching its Dalit vote bank, the Congress belatedly woke up to the grave threat that Mayawati was posing to the party. This was something which was brought out loudly in previous posts here, but then no one was listening. But after the electoral jolts, Mayawati rapidly turned from friend to spoiler to competition which had to be stopped at all costs.

Now, it is full circle again. The Congress is suddenly discovering new virtues in Mulayyam's SP and a lot of corruption in Mayawati’s government! Look at the irony. This time, it is turn of the suddenly-turned-friend-again SP to be benefited by the Congress’s decision to not accord sanction to prosecute SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in corruption cases, including the one involving fraudulent enrolment of policemen!

Hang on. The joke is not over yet. After giving protection in separate corruption cases to both Mayawati and Mulayam Yadav in a span of less than one year, Sonia Gandhi is now talking of Rahul Gandhi’s willingness to go to jail as part of the party’s fight against the corruption in Mayawati’s government! I mean who are we fooling? Are ordinary Indians so dumb that they will fall for this charade or is there a really serious intellect deficit and people disconnect in the Congress?

We know how quickly people see through the sordid games of politicians. You have the most apparent answer staring in your face, but the Congress can’t see. Who will benefit from this confused flip-flop? Only Mayawati. Who will suffer, may be mortally? Only the Congress. The problem is: what choice does the emasculated Congress really have in UP? A drowning man is entitled to clutch at every straw to save himself. But after catching the first one which turned out to be made of lead, the Congress has found for itself the very piece of lead it had dumped earlier!

Just imagine. The Congress had both Mayawati and Mulayam uncomfortably cornered in corruption cases; a perfect opportunity to simultaneously get at both its principal opponents and expose and weaken them. But, it has let them both off the hook and is now talking of fighting corruption in the same breath!

The Congress seems to have completely forgotten that these are the two parties which have poached its traditional voters, the dalits and Muslims. They are never going to come back to the Congress if it sucks up to any one of these parties for temporary gain. A great opportunity to take them on has been missed again, so intense seems to be the focus on getting back enough MPs in the next election by whatever means.

Mahendra Singh Tikait is a Jat leader with some following in the Jat dominated villages of Western UP, translating into about 74 assembly constituencies. The rise and rise of Dalits led by Mayawati is decisively shifting the balance of power away from the “upper castes” and farmers who have for thousands of years meted out almost sub human treatment to Dalits. That change is not easy to swallow at all in the rural countryside; a point simply not seen in its enormity by the city bred who dominate the media and political hierarchies in most parties.

What has Tikait done? On March 30, 2008, he made derogatory caste remarks against dalits and Mayawati, to the loud cheer of his many Jat supporters. And when the police went to arrest him, it was prevented from doing so by his supporters, causing great social tension in the area. Worse, some people are actually supporting his statement and questioning the very logic of action against him for taunting certain communities by their traditional names, citing freedom of speech!

Battle lines appear to be getting drawn between the traditional centers of power dominated by non dalits and the dalits who are experiencing some real empowerment thanks to the banyan tree-like shelter and protection provided by Mayawati.

The Congress has recently launched its campaign of wooing dalits back into its fold by the stay-a-night strategy of making Rahul Gandhi stay a night in dalit homes across India. This is empowerment upper caste style, with dalits being dramatically told that they are no less than others by the highest ‘other’. In the backdrop of some dalit disenchantment with Mayawati’s performance as Chief Minister, this may have actually worked to the advantage of the Congress.

Tikait has unknowingly delivered a fatal blow to any hopes that the Congress may have had of getting more dalits to vote for it. He may have fired some base pride and caste superiority in Jats to ensure that they stay with him. But, ironically, he has also unintentionally driven home Mayawati’s message to the dalits that she alone can give real empowerment to them.

The unstated message of Tikait’s outburst is that upper caste politicians will only exploit dalits and will continue to humiliate them in some manner or the other from time to time to ensure that they effectively remain at the bottom of the heap. The straight message of the Congress party’s fresh friendship with Mayawati’s implacable enemy Mulayam is that to that party, dalits continue to mean nothing and that Rahul Gandhi’s latest efforts to win them back are no more than dishonest stunts to cheat them. The statement of the MOS Home, Jaiswal, that Tikait need not be arrested for his inflammatory comments has only served to reinforce it further, without any visible benefit to the Congress.

The many self goals being regularly scored by Mayawati’s opponents, confused and in serious disarray due her politically and socially disruptive meteoric rise, have given her enough manna to sustain her in her rapid ascent to the top. If she can keep her head and material needs in the right place, she may well get to South Block after the ensuing general elections. Thanks to the Congress and Tikait, 2009 could be the year of Mayawati.

This post was also published by reuters.com