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Why Hindol Sengupta needn’t fear Mayawati

May 17, 2007

hindol-senguptamayawati

Baba Hindol and Behen Maya

Please read this very important post on the CNN IBN website’s otherwise dull blog section. It has been written by Hindol Sengupta who covers fashion and suchlike for them. His point is that he can’t relate to Mayawati, and finds it ironic that the “backbone of the knowledge, entreneurial [sic] economy” should be a “non-vote bank”. He says that his class of people, his ‘type’ – People Like Us, to use a cliche – “rejoice every time Manmohan Singh takes stage” but alas, even he couldn’t win a Lok Sabha election from South Delhi.

The reason why I think it is an important post is that unlike most other PLUs, Sengupta makes no claim to ‘objectivity’. When Youth for Equality / United Students / other ‘anti-reservationists’ oppose reservations, and speak about Dalits/OBCs, they claim to be doing so with a claim to ‘objectivity’, that is, they do not admit that the viewpoint(s) they are putting forward are of a certain section of society that is influential in shaping public opinion despite being in a minority.

Sengupta admits not only his discomfiture with a democratically elected Mayawati but also that his discomfiture stems from his background, from who he is. He describes himself and his ilk as “middle-class, educated, metro-bred, Christian-education raised, young.” That would abbreviate into MEMCRY, but let’s just use the word ‘yuppie’.

It is quite extraordinary and laudatory for a yuppie to admit his distance from the political rise of the ‘low-class, neo-literate, village-bred, government school-raised, middle aged’. Such an admission is a rarity, and it is exactly what the ‘anti-anti-reservationists’ want the ‘anti-reservationists’ to admit.

Sengupta’s ‘realisation’, though, is an incomplete one. Except for a passing reference in the last paragraph, he does not mention that the distance between Us and Them is in great measure that of language. Conversations on class, social mobility and suchlike these days seem to forget the Hindi/English divide. It has been left to Kancha Iliah and Chandrabhan Prasad now to remind us of it.

Unfortunately the realisation of his being a PLU doesn’t go too far. But the honesty does extend to his class bias: his problem with Lalu having a buffaloes in his backyard and on Mayawati he writes: “But forward planning? Infrastructure ideas? Modernity? Mayawati, alas, is the quintessential behenji.”

So what about Lalu’s success as railway minister? Could it be that Mayawati hasn’t been able to work on development because she’s not been in power for more than two years collectively in three terms? Could it be that Mayawati’s Ambedkar Villages scheme has made the ceiling fan finally whirl in a few villages and allowed a few Dalits to gather the courage to go to the police station and file an FIR against the men who raped their daughter? Could it be that the Dalit-Brahmin alliance by Mayawati could force a Brahmin or two to give up untouchability and accept dalits as part of the same social realm as theirs?

The questions don’t bother Sengupta because the answers don’t affect him. In other words, another area where I would like Sengupta to extend his realisation to is middle class self-centredness. The middle class cares only about itself, the rest may go to hell. If this is true even in perception, that is bad enough.

I also hope his realisation will sooner or later extend to adding the phrase ‘upper caste’ to MEMCRY. After so much heat on reservations, are the yuppies still blind to the fact that PLUs are exclusively upper-caste? Whether its is by design or default that the middle class is predominantly (if not exclusively) upper caste is arguable. Whether this should be changed by improving the quality of primary schools and/or by reservations in higher education, is debatable. But no one can dispute that the Indian middle class is composed of the upper castes. Yet they choose not to admit this. Sengupta honestly admits that his convent education, metropolitan upbringing, class status are the causes of his dismay (and ‘fear’!) over Mayawati’s victory. I wish he’d extend this honesty to admitting that his caste is responsible in the first place for his MEMCRY yuppie status.

He detests the heartland politicians because they don’t speak his idiom. But the heartland politicians are who they are largely because of their caste.

Kumari Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Prasad Yadav and others of their ilk are symbols, literally, of the political assertion of those below the middle class. The logic of such political assertion, according to Sengupta, is:

It’s the same logic that kept Lalu in power, that allowed him to argue that development is nothing. He brought something more to his voters – he was one of them, and for those who had been oppressed for centuries, to see one of them in power, to see a CM who kept buffalos in his backyard was intoxicating. It was a real sense of power. No roads or electricity could beat that.

If Sengupta roots for Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra just because he can relate to them, why shouldn’t those not fortunate to have his MEMCRY yuppie status not vote for leaders whom *they* can relate with? If “those who had been oppressed for centuries” (as if they aren’t anymore) can enjoy a “real sense of power” by having one of their ilk in the CM’s chair, then should we conclude that Sengupta and the yuppie class he represents also wants the same venal pleasure by seeing people of their ilk in power?

Sengupta’s understanding of caste politics – that the lower castes, the ‘oppressed’, vote for People Like Them for a sense of power – is to miss the wood for the trees. Indeed, if you ask Dalits in a remote village in eastern Uttar Pradesh (as I did in the middle of February this year) why they vote for Mayawati, they will actually say that they do so because she brings them dignity, because she is one of their own. In the mid-nineties Mayawati used to say in her rallies, “Main Chamar ki beti hoon. Main Chamari hoon, main tumhari hoon.”

But the reason why Dalits feel the need to have one of their own in power is because they think that only then will they have the roads and electricity they need – something Sengupta suggests foreign-educated Rahul Gandhi will deliver better than someone like Mayawati who has risen from a village and knows what it is like not to have roads and electricity. The “knowledge, entreneurial [sic] economy” Sengupta says MEMCRY yuppies are the backbone of, it doesn’t exist in most of the Hindi heartland.

In one village I went to near Allahabad, there was a road going to a Brahmin basti, one to a Srivastava basti, but not one to a Dalit basti. The residents of that Pasi (a Dalit caste) basti told me that this was plain discrimination because of their caste. And they voted for Mayawati for her to change that. They voted for her again and again in the hope that some day she’ll get full five years in power. (I thought it was quite remarkable that in a Dalit basti in a village they knew of the five year system!) If they see Mayawati not delivering the goods, they will stop voting for her one day. Just like they stopped voting for the Congress that produced the Rahuls and Priyankas but not roads and electricity in villages.

An office colleague, who despite having done his customary duties at the JNU elections can be counted as a member of the MEMCRY yuppie class, told me that his Brahmin parents in urban, BJP-voting Lucknow enthusiastically voted for the BSP. Growing up in Lucknow myself, I learnt less about the non-existent ‘Lakhnavi tehzeeb’ than about Dalit-OBC politics because it was all happening before me. The day La Martiniere College shut down to allow a Samajwadi Party rally on its grounds was, in retrospect, a remarkable day when heartland politics was able to interrupt a middle class factory.

But so many years of living under Maya and Mulayam has taught Lucknow’s and Uttar Pradesh’s middle class to live with it. And love it. If my colleague’s parents voted for the BSP, and Brahmin lawyers like Satish Chandra Mishra are suddenly becoming aware of their Brahmin status and joining the BSP in large numbers, it speaks of a convergence of interests.

Ambedkar, and his followers such as Mayawati, wanted Dalits to “educate, organise and agitate”, capture power and then use power to open the doors of equality for Dalits. Kanshi Ram translated the idea to the masses by showing them a pen. The cap, he said, was how much the upper castes were. The rest of the body of the pen was Dalits/OBCs/Muslims (“Bahujans”). Despite being together in a majority they were being ruled by a minority o upper castes. The pen stood vertically. He said he wanted to make it horizontal, where everyone was equal. Brahmins, OBCs and Muslims voting for Mayawati and bringing her to power is exactly the fulfilment of that idea, even if politically but not yet socially.

Caste politics, Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Mayawati n UP have proved, is not stagnant. It is rather a caste *churning*. Something’s happening here. Some thing’s changing. Hindol Sengupta doesn’t need to be afraid of it. He can join it.

43 Comments
  1. Aashish Gupta permalink
    May 17, 2007 6:15 PM

    Discovered ur blog from the sarai reading list, and cant agree more.
    Just to add to ur view, John Harris, a professor of Development Studies in his book Reinventing India (OUP) talks of elite revolts, that is how the rhetoric and practice of reforms, hindu nationalism were about the aspirations of the middle class than anything else. while reforms that wud have benefited them were undertaken, something as basic as land and agriculture reforms were completely neglected, because they wud have been disadvantageous for the ‘rural elites’ and rich farmers.
    The point that the middle class cared about nothing but its own aspirations has also been discussed etensively in the great indian middle class, by pavan varma.

  2. May 17, 2007 7:44 PM

    brilliant puts so much into perspective

  3. May 17, 2007 11:16 PM

    DOHA- JAI JAI JAGDAMBE KAA ROOP/
    LAAJ RAKHIYA JAGAT KEE AAYE KOI NAA BHOOP//

    Jai jai mayaa maharaanee, tumahree kirpaa na jaay bakhaanee,
    Tumhraa naam jape dalit jan saraa, tum unakee ho taaran haaraa,
    Sab tumhree hai karay barai , tum unakee ho kaalee mai,
    Tum gungan kee kariw khichai, apraadhin kaa jail pathai,
    Jo tumhse hai karay larai, unko jail diyo pahuchai,
    Unch neech jas gunde saare, tum unako kinho pichwaare,
    Jitanee rahee fauz dhan saaraa, tum unako sab deen bigaaraa,
    Unakee ijjat maatee me kinhaa, unase chheen talaab bhee linhaa,
    Pahale jo the atayachaareel, unakee aay gayee balihaaree,
    Ab un sab na karay larai, sabse rakhay mail milayee.
    Aise rajya chalay kaa chahee, phir jantaa kaa chintaa nahee,
    Hamrav ek vinay hai maayaa , hamre uppar kardo daayaa,
    Diyo kahi par noukaree dilayee, tumharo gun jiwan bhar gayee,
    Tum jantaa kaya karaw bhalayee, sabse rakho mail meelayee,
    Tumharee kurshee phir jay na paye , sabkee jamanat jabt hoi jaye,
    Sada karaw jantaa kay sewaa , sab kaa milay dudh awa mewaa,

    Dohaa- jai jai mayawati sadaa karo kalyaan ,
    u.p kee jantaa kaa Rakhanaa hardam, dhayaan,

  4. May 17, 2007 11:33 PM

    Brilliant write-up!

  5. May 18, 2007 1:36 PM

    hey shivam

    maybe theres a larger point that can be taken with regards to hindol’s piece…?

    caste-politics in UP (and elsewhere?) are associated so closely with identity-politics which are, of course, vital and empowering and so on, and i don’t think that any of us (or anyone) would be in a position to take a normative view of a democratic vote (elite consociationalism?!!) – but what of the questions of what comes after identity politics?

    you’ve emphasised (very eloquently, if i may say so) the importance of identity politics in driving empowerment, but this election more than being driven by caste seems to have driven by “sarva samaj”; perhaps a coalition of the poor, of the needy, more than one of caste alone? how will the dalit party’s emphasis on identity politics translate into other (more material, perhaps) gains such as education, healthcare etc.? i think it was weiner who said that with the exception of kerala, the efforts of states to provide material benefits for dalits remains marginal; “dalit politicians and bureaucrats and dalit associations and political parties have had little impact on public policies”.

    mayawati’s win has likely impacts on the upcoming gen elections as well, with UP under her and a significant presence in neighbouring states, she could impact the votes of maybe 150 seats? so if we are looking at her in a national sense, what can we expect in terms of policy and planning that moves beyond what is seen as “dalit rage” and the politics of exclusion which mark the intersections between (dalit) caste and politics? much of dalit politics has been based on the need to gain power, confer dignity, self respect etc. – so with the assumption of power are we now inevitably moving to step 2: implementation? or can we wonder about that progression?

    i’m not offering the “what will she know of global politics” line, because of course i agree that for atleast a decade now, in terms of economic issues, elections seem to have been won on issues of democracy and social justice but then policies framed have been macro-economic, elite ones (this is what yadav calls the “bifurcation of politics”… the bhasha-english divide)… but i am wondering how the shift will be made from what has been a politics of exclusion and discrimination to one of power and governance. in fact maybe i’ll stick my neck out further to suggest that to view hindol’s post as a MEMCRY lament alone is to miss the wood for the trees. the bsp is associated with amassing wealth, gaining power – what indicates that these traits will change now, or that they will work well on the natl/intl arena?

    ps: and need i say, my views do not represent those of cnn-ibn etc. etc.

  6. Shuddhabrata Sengupta permalink
    May 18, 2007 4:45 PM

    “…And that, as sophistication deserts our politics, means perhaps one day I will have to leave.”

    (Hindol Sengupta)

    Now someone needs to start a little ‘chanda’ fund, a little campaign to collect kisi se, paanch sau, kisi se teen sau rupaye, so that Hindol baba can be put on the next plane to some suffushiently suffustucated micro-emirate, where Angrezi bol bala waley baba-log with the right kind of manicure have the divine right to rule.

  7. Aniruddha Dutta permalink
    May 19, 2007 1:11 PM

    Was glad to read this much-needed rejoinder to elite reactionary politics, thanks Shivam, that was truly brilliant!
    I think there is a parallel with the kind of unitary, elite-led model of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ that one is being fed regarding the land acquisition issue… the country will go to hell if investors are not allowed to cater to their yuppie clientele even if that means peoples’ occupations are ruined and urgent agricultural reforms are relegated to the backburner… oh my gawdd, we will all become ‘backward’ and move back 200 years while the rest of the world quickly becomes exactly like the US and West Europe. I think the convenient logic of capitalism (what is best for the upper class is undoubtedly best for the “people” the “country” and the “economy”) also come to play here, besides of course caste politics.

  8. mud permalink
    May 19, 2007 4:09 PM

    Heh…poor Hindol. and that too when he thought he was being honest…

    Yet, somehow middle class subversion remains far more appealing than caste-based hero worship.

    Hindol was honest about himself. And Yuppie or no yuppie, he has a point. Castes may be churning, but what about the schools and the hospitals? Next election, inshallah, these shall matter more than sadhu, taraazu and talwaar.

  9. Shivam permalink
    May 20, 2007 4:40 AM

    Atreyee Majumder writes on the Reader-List:

    I think Sengupta hints at something more than the ‘objective’ position- he mentions the enormous power wielded by the middle-class- in terms social capital, economic power, access to global economy and opportunities arising through the global window, but does not seem to think much of it. He mentions that the middle-classes don’t matter as a vote-bank, but forgets that our higher judiciary and top bureaucracy is entirely middle-class, and hence, a large part of the middle-class worldview resonates in the state machinery already. Sengupta seems to have ignored or underestimated the role played by agencies like the Planning Commission, other non-elected governing bodies, which are significant avenues of power and influence especially in an unwieldy democracy. Sengupta seems to have also assumed the ‘objective’ point of view in imagining that the middle-classes are immune to corruption- cambridge-educated leaders, judges, bureaucrats, corporate top bosses across the world have not exactly lived up to the rational, squeaky clean, mega-efficient, accountable portrait that Sengupta seems to have painted. On the other hand, I don’t agree with Shivam’s pristine picture of Dalit political leadership either. Had a Mayawati or Yadav been the key solution to caste-marginalisation, UP and Bihar would not pick up guns everytime an election was around. Had the CP(I)M been representative of the ‘proleteriat’ it would not be feeding land to big corporates today. I think our intellectual urge to analyse drives us soemtimes to simplify power equations, because the other option would be to leave the puzzle unsolved, which is an urge I identify with, but wish away…

  10. May 21, 2007 11:03 AM

    Great post. And a good reply. It was needed. I am surprised how Hindol Sengupta could write such a childish piece.

  11. May 23, 2007 4:03 PM

    Please visit at:

    http://vinay1340.wordpress.com/analysis-of-results-of-up-elections-–2007/

    for analysis of UP election – 2007.

  12. May 23, 2007 8:09 PM

    I completely agree with what you have to say. But the worst- and the most childish part of Hindol (!!!) Sengupta’s post is the part where he says that he will have to leave India if Mayawati or Lalu become PM. It definately will be a good riddance I must say. I must say the type needs a good spanking!

    I blogged about it too some time back. You can read it here if you so wish:http://smokeringsofmamind.blogspot.com/2007/05/much-mangled-media.html

    T.O.

  13. dodo permalink
    May 23, 2007 11:30 PM

    Yet to read your entire post.But let me clarify, Hindol Sengupta’s article is a sick one!

    Am writing this quick comment just to tell you that I am a no- class “neo-literate, village-bred, government school-raised middle aged” person and still staunch anti-reservationist. Please don’t generalize! I know many “MEMCRY” who are staunch reservationist and reaping the fruits of reservations for generations.

    Again, Sengupta’s article is a sick one, but why bring reservation and all to criticize it!Whom are you fighting here?

  14. May 24, 2007 1:13 PM

    Great write up. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Since you have a very good idea of UP politics, I want to know what the effect of the Gandhi family rule in Amethi has been? Is the town better than the rest of UP? And what is the general perception of Rahul Gandhi in UP?

  15. Panini Pothoharvi permalink
    May 25, 2007 5:00 AM

    Assuming Mr Sengupta mustered enough courage and more than enough moolah courtesy the generous Shuddho and left for pastures of purity, I would seriously consider sending him a series of two liners. Here are the first three:

    gayi vo baat ki, ho guftagu to kyoNkar ho,
    kahe se kuchh na hua, phir kaho to kyoNkar ho.

    ulajhte ho tum, agar dekhte ho aaina,
    jo tum se shehr meiN hoN ek do to kyoNkar ho.

    jise naseeb ho roz-e-siyaah mera sa,
    vo shaks din na kahe raat ko to kyoNkar ho.

  16. Panini Pothoharvi permalink
    May 25, 2007 5:03 AM

    The ‘h’ in shakhs is missing. Please make amends.

  17. Matt permalink
    May 29, 2007 6:10 AM

    Shivam, good that you decided to write a response to Hindol. It required a response.

    However, I have a pretty low opinion of some of the commentors here – they don’t seem to have understood your point. Hindol was honest, and he openly (out of naivety, perhaps) admitted things which a large part of the middle class knows but won’t admit. Instead, some try to just poke fun at it or be contemptuous as if he is an aberration. He is not, and he speaks for a substantial bunch of people, and that opinion, right or not, should be treated at face value.

    There are more such biases. A Mayavati makes a large part of my Malayalee community (irrespective of caste) cringe. So does a Mulayam. I am sure many cringe at an Advani, or a Sonia. There is nothing to poke fun about there, and I mean this for your readers, not you.

    For my class of people, however much a Lalu or Mayavati betters the lot of many, remain people who can ‘lower’ our quality of life and level of political discourse. As a class which has no voting power to keep them out, as political underdogs as the lower castes and the poor take over more political power, I believe those fears need to be addressed. You and blogs like yours can go a long way in doing that – something a Mayavati or Mulayam is hardly interested in.

    Hindol mentioned another example – which you haven’t mentioned here. He spoke against the arrest of Chandramohan, while his cameraperson said no one insults his gods. He is afraid of a takeover by the illiberal. Legitimate fear?

  18. June 4, 2007 12:12 AM

    I am a “yuppie” by the your definition of the term. I can’t help it – just as one can’t blame anyone else for being a “bhaiya” on the other hand. Is my caste responsible for it? I am not sure.

    But the question is, will reverse casteism solve the issue? For “yuppies” like me who don’t care about caste (which if you ask me is better in the long run for eliminating caste, or at least its ill effects), it only makes us more caste conscious — or, as in the current Gujjar protests in Rajasthan, even wish we weren’t one. Maybe then we could take the civil service exam 7 times instead of 3, or get our daddies to obtain an SC/ST/OBC certificate to get into an institution we weren’t otherwise smart enough to qualify by means of en entrance exam.

    My father studied in a state where STs and OBCs constitute, I believe, 40% of the population. I’ve been told stories of those guys going out to watch movies while the regular students spent whole nights studying, of them barely passing – and still ending up with government jobs! But everyone must be equal. After all, maybe my ancestors had enough privileges in the past – its payback time, yuppies!

    Of course, the media guys know more. I don’t really like going to villages to shoot pictures of poor children and emaciated people. But when I do look at them, and realize that us being born into what we are is purely a matter of chance (and not karma as my ancestor yuppies probably believed), I wish our country were a bit richer. Is reverse casteism going to achieve that? I do not know. It’ll be quite sad if it ends up pulling us back to where we started from though.

  19. bhirusen permalink
    June 10, 2007 4:31 AM

    I have a question (and how we all know the cliche) – You are stuck in a row boat, in the middle of the ocean, you have mayawati and sonia gandhi as co-passengers. You’re doing the rowing, and the boat is hardly budging, you have to throw someone overboard. Who will it be?

  20. June 15, 2007 2:51 AM

    Very well written article in recent times…….everyone is pointing towards the problem and running round the bush but where is the light at end of tunnel.

    Do yuppies have an answer to the problem. The reason few bunch of politicians are able to control a billion people’s destiny.

    Look at the irony, the number of people who wanted mayawati to come to power were only 13% of the total eligible electorate in UP…..due to the dont touch me attitude of Yuppies and similar kin n kith…. who dont vote… mayawati gets to power..
    For a smart lady like mayawati( i take the liberty to say so) its no problem to influence 13% of the total population when 50% of that was dalit voters.

  21. Paul k permalink
    June 29, 2007 5:26 AM

    Hindol, I have the same apprehensions with regard to Mayawati that u have.

  22. Kavesh Teltumbude permalink
    January 30, 2008 3:04 AM

    Disclaimer: I am not an Upper caste urban upper caste. I am middle class from a Backaward caste (will that qualify me as a yuppie, I guess it should). Most people who are commenting on this article belongs to the Middle class and above. It is quite obvious going by their language and usage of the computer.

    This said, How is Mayavathi going to help the poor and oppressed. All she will do is build statues of Ambedkar and Phule and provide the illusion to the millions of the poor people she is one among them (she has declared her assets at 52 crores). It is Orwell’s animal farm all over again. You talk as if the poor will come to power if they vote for one of their caste. How does mayavathi represent the poor in any way other than belonging to some specific caste. She was a government servant in urban delhi before coming to politics. The politicians form a class of their own. The pro poor policies get diluted if you bring the caste factor in. As there are yuppies from all the backward, scheduled and castes they will eat the cake and thats what has happened in caste politics throughout. This is proven in Tamil nadu in the cesspool of dravidian politics, in Bihar, in UP… The need of the time is to think about development and not just think of caste. Hindol Sengupta atleast is honest. We need progressive leaders with progressive symbolism. Whats wrong with that unless you are so fixated on poverty. YOu claim middle class is worried about its own survival, which class isn’t worried about that?
    People who think politicians from BSP represent the poor are living in a fool’s paradise.

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