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The Liberals and the Bahujans

April 25, 2009

There was this article in the Indian Express yesterday by Mihir Sharma which basically says liberals don’t have to feel guilty about not supporting Mayawati for PM because Mayawati and the BSP don’t have a “programme”. That desire for a new, revolutionary “programme” sounds Stalinist to me. But more than that, it is revealing about the picture of the good Indian liberal that the author has. The good Indian liberal seems to be completely unaware of the five letter word, Caste; s/he does not appreciate what untouchability means for millions, what the monopoly over the power structure by upper castes means for the ‘majority of the oppressed’ (Bahujan). This good liberal sounds like a foreign-educated babalog who is not very different from someone we have met before.

But wait, I don’t have to continue this rant because in the same morning’s HT, Ashutosh Varshney had what could be an excellent rejoinder to the Mihir Sharma piece:

Poverty is not just a low-income category in India. For most poor people, it comes with the denial of human dignity. The largest proportion of the poor in India has historically come from the Dalits, OBCs and adivasis, groups that have customarily suffered humiliation and discrimination in a vertical Hindu social order. Being treated badly is not the same as being poor, and that’s why the politics of poverty has taken the form of the politics of dignity. To describe its political thrust, every lower caste party has always used some version of the term ‘samman ki raajniti’. (In the US, when issues like this arose with respect to the African Americans, it was called the politics of civil rights.) [Read the full article.]

That is the central programme of the BSP, so to speak, and the Indian Express liberal can’t appreciate it because s/he’s not experienced it. The loss is entirely his.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. forshivam permalink
    April 25, 2009 2:44 AM

    Or perhaps that”programme” simply won’t work the way you and Varshney think it will? Liberals don’t have to be blindly hopeful after all

  2. April 25, 2009 2:55 AM

    The Indian Express Liberal is not even recognising that programme, sir, then why are you rushing to defend the IEL by saying, rather predicting, astrologer-like, that programme won’t work? And if it doesn’t work, why does Mayawati get votes? Just like your patronising “forshivam” pseudonym, are you going to tell these voters, decide for them and speak on their behalf, that they won’t get what they are looking for?

  3. on liberal and bahujan permalink
    April 25, 2009 9:00 AM

    It would be intersting to know how the author of this blog would justify Mayawati giving ticket to mafia like DP yadav and Mukhtar Ansari. Also its a bit telling that kafila has been silent of killing of Jaunpur candidate sonkar. The BSP seems very much involved in the murder. He was also a dalit belonging to Indian Justice party.
    If it was an atrocity committed under any other regime, the blog would have, quite correctly, launched into all cricism about the liberal parties.
    This uncritical and self-denial approach is not very healthy for a blog that otherwise seems to be doing good on other issues.

    • April 26, 2009 8:52 PM

      This blog has also not been critical of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide. Do you think this blog condones it?

      I’m reserving my thoughts for another post – on Dhananjay, Mukhta, all the criminal candidates, on BSP and Dalit atrocities… I’ll write this after casting my vote in Lucknow!

  4. bahujan permalink
    April 25, 2009 10:59 AM

    Yes this blog is a smaller version of BSP mouthpiece. Like what progoti is to CPM!

    • April 26, 2009 8:34 PM

      This blog does not have a single point of view. Prepare yourself for some really harsh criticism of Mayawati and her party from one of the people who blog here.

  5. April 25, 2009 1:10 PM

    an interesting post with lots of fascinating ideas. some thoughts:

    1. on streotypes–i am afraid throwing labels around is a bad way to argue. denigrating references to ‘liberals’ and ‘baba-logs’ in your post not only essentialises these categories, but is also extremely condescending. why, i think i am liberal and will fall within the ‘baba-log’ category if age is the criterion, and yes, am also ‘foreign educated’. are you denying me the right to take mayawati seriously merely because i check these boxes? will i be presumed to not understand caste, or not see it as an issue? it might be better if we stick to arguments rather than beating straw-men, and are a little slow to judge.

    2. this excellent piece by mukul kesavan will surely interest you and anyone interested in mayawati: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090416/jsp/opinion/story_10825507.jsp

    3. does it have to be an either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us politics? can i acknowledge the transformatory potential of mayawati’s symbolism, yet at the same time be wary of her authoritarian tendencies (just as i would be wary of the authoritarian tendencies of so many other politicians in india). do i have to see her as flawless for her to have my vote? this of course is directed not just to shivam, but to some comments above. the question is this: do we think about party-lines, or do party-lines think us?

    4. samman ki rajniti (or the politics of recognition) which puts dignity at its heart is not above criticism. yes pride is important, but it is not always wielded by the disposessed. much of hindutva politics also uses a similar terminology. indignity can be real or perceived, and has great mobilising potential. but it is a double-edged knife.

    more importantly, if the liberal is allowed to value a marxist insight, if sometimes distracts from the goal of material well-being: that very impotant pre-requisite for swaraj–having control over our lives and destinies. using varshney’s terms, it is not entirely unproblematic when politics of poverty becomes politics of dignity. i prefer politics of swaraj or autonomy because poverty suggests we ignore caste, which as you rightly suggest, would be immoral in the indian context. politics of dignity in the West has come under criticism precisely because (to use your caricature), it allows ‘liberals’ to feel good about themselves just by accomodating identities without needing to ensure material well-being of those disposessed (because of class or because of these other identities).

    let me be clear, i am not arguing against samman ki rajniti. i am arguing against an exclusive and uncritical samman ki rajniti. of course samman and swaraj are not mutually exclusive, but it is legitimate to ask what mayawati’s (or anyone else’s) ‘program’ is to ensure swaraj for indians. if she doesn’t , it is problematic.

  6. on liberal and bahujan permalink
    April 25, 2009 2:24 PM

    I can’t agree more with tarunbh. I strongly feel that addressing the content of the argument is far more productive than dismissing the argument by labelling it as “liberal”. Its like when if you criticise the BJP, they willl call you psedu-secular or the CPM would call you reactionary. By the way Prof varshney is also a liberal. He is certainly not a revolutionary. And i don’t think any liberal will disagree with the quote of varshney. Uncritical glorification of personalities and parties should be avoided for healthy discussion. As tarunbh says, one may still vote for mayawati/cpm/cong, even though one may disagrees with them. I may vote for bhenji in UP but for congress in delhi…….thanks to the liberal nature of our politics…..

  7. ravi permalink
    April 25, 2009 3:03 PM

    There is something called good governance. Can any of the supporters of Mayawati in this site tell us her record in this. Has UP fared better under her in social indicators?. What have been the unique features of her rule that are worth emulating elsewhere?. In terms of indicators like employment generation, improvement in
    MMR, literacy, per capita income what is the
    record of her government. Whether the living conditions of the poor have improved after her coming to power in 2007.

    Lalu was C.M of Bihar for 15 years and was darling of secular-left intellectuals. But how about
    his performance as C.M. Did Bihar grow rapidly
    in those years. The poor Biharis go to Delhi, Mumbai in search of jobs and to make a living.
    How many lakhs of jobs were created in his
    tenure. Where is swaraj if I have to go to a
    big city to make a living or to earn something
    so that others in the family can eat. Whose Swaraj are you all talking of as if poverty is
    not a big issue. The much hated Modi for all
    his faults has ensured that jobs are created
    in his state and has some innovative schemes
    to improve MMR and education for girls. UNICEF
    will talk about it but not these ‘intellectuals’ or
    NGOs who will lecture about human development
    blah blah.I dont approve of his views and policies
    on many issues. There has been no corruption
    charges against him, nor has he been accused
    of being influnced by his family in matters of
    state.

  8. educated! permalink
    April 25, 2009 5:28 PM

    You seem to hold in disdain people who have managed to, either through family wealth or hard work, study in higher institutions or abroad. Once they are done getting an education, you discount their views entirely because you seem to think, somehow being educated, has dulled their brains. Quite an argument against education Shivam, and you didn’t even know you were making it!

    • April 25, 2009 11:54 PM

      Dear “educated”,

      I want you to do a google search for Mayawati uneducated. You will find results like:

      Mayawati is an uneducated, corrupted, worthless person. [Link]

      Now Mayawati has a law degree and another one in education. But so many people seem to think she is “uneducated”.

      My problem with the Maya-hating elites, dear “educated!”, is not that the elites are educated but that the elites think Mayawati is uneducated. They think so because the picture of an ideal educated person in our minds is of fair, English-speaking people who preferably went to elite institutions to fetch those degrees. A Hindi-speaking, dehati-sounding Mayawati “looks” uneducated to these elites.

      I tell you, the real reason why the middle classes fear Mayawati so much is because she “looks” like their average housemaid. And there is a fundamental insecurity that their housemaid could become their ruler. Kalyug is upon us. Incidentally, I’m not making up the housemaid thing. Housemaids in Lucknow’s middle class colonies go to work with BSP ID cards in their pockets and resist exploitation by flaunting it – I’ve seen this myself I swear.

  9. April 25, 2009 9:11 PM

    Ravi, I don’t think Shivam’s post – or for that matter his earlier posts on Dalit-bahujan politics – at all amount to an uncritical defence of Mayawati as CM. Her governance and role in national politics may well in the not-so-distant future turn out to be disastrous. Or it may turn out differently – it’s still too early to reach a final judgment on the matter. But the larger point here is not about governance, but about the colossal historical significance of a Dalit woman – and a Dalit party – holding political power in one of the most obscenely unequal and patriarchal societies on the planet. And the significance of that is real, whether or not she turns out to be a disaster, whether or not it may be necessary to fight her tooth and nail in the future.

    As for the ‘much-hated Modi’, once again governance is a second-order question (of course he’s an efficient administrator, as many despots are) or corruption (yes he’s known to be personally incorruptible, as, again, many twentieth-century tyrants were). But even if he were to run the best, most unblemished administration the country has ever known, all this would make no difference to the fact of Modi’s culpability in – and his stewardship of – the 2002 massacres of Muslims, the worst pogrom we’ve seen in recent years. Or to the fact that he presides over what is effectively an apartheid regime. Fascists of all stripes, as we know, have generally been able to make trains run on time.

    Even if by some improbable turn of events Modi were to turn out to be a dream Chief Minister, he is still responsible for crimes worse than those committed by any other contemporary Indian politician, and his proper place is before the International Criminal Court of Justice, not at the helm of affairs in a state administration. Whatever he does or achieves as CM is strictly irrelevant to this.

  10. jaibheem permalink
    April 25, 2009 10:38 PM

    @ravi

    jai bheem

    mayavati’s record is much better than that of Indira Gandhi, Narendra MOdi etc.
    want proof? just go and search valuable documents available in govt archives

    jai bheem

  11. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    April 26, 2009 4:34 AM

    Hindus are ruling India since centuary ,why 175 million dalits are living below the poverty line.Their is nexus between hindus,Media(Hindu Toilet papers) and financial institution who are helping each other and making dalits poor.time has come hindu led government have should give seprate county away from barbaric hindus where dalits can stay peacefully and profess their religion.Hindus are born barbaric so you can not change their genes.Hindu itellectuals are more dangerous then their cousins because they are killing one dalits in 12 hours but hindu intellectuals who are annhilating dalits forever which we have seen Durban and other international forums.

  12. suresh permalink
    April 26, 2009 5:21 AM

    I did a search for mayawati+uneducated and while there were some links, it’s not as much as you portray. Try sonia+gandhi+uneducated while you’re at it and see the results: those seem more vicious if anything. Though, arguably, many in the middle class would not know that Sonia Gandhi does not have a college degree while Mayawati has two. (I myself did not know, to be honest.) Incidentally, Mayawati is better educated than most of the Gandhi family, most of whom don’t have a college degree. This list includes Indira, Feroze, Rajiv, Sonia, Sanjay and I think, Varun and possibly Maneka.

    Certainly, the English-speaking middle class unease with Mayawati has something to do with her being a Dalit but I’m not sure that’s the whole story. It’s also that unlike other politicians, she makes no effort whatsoever to woo them: She very rarely gives interviews and makes no effort to talk in English. We – I mean the elite which includes all of us participating here – are terribly impressed by someone with the ability to talk fluently in English. You can talk nonsense but just the ability to do so fluently counts for something in our country. Conversely, someone who doesn’t speak English is looked down as inferior and even worthy of fun. In spite of this, Mayawati, remarkably, has made no concessions: I don’t recall her speaking English at any time. In the current scenario, I can’t recall anyone other than Karunanidhi who’s stubbornly refused to speak English.

    Finally, I wonder if there’s a parallel here with Laloo’s career. Laloo, too, initially gave no thought to governance and for quite some time, the samman ki rajniti was enough to carry him. But, as with most things, it could not go on forever. Now Laloo and his RJD have changed – the baba-log Mihir Sharma mentions in his article that two of the best ministers in the outgoing government were from the RJD!

    Yes, it is certainly true that in asking for a “programme”, we (the elite) fail to appreciate how much Mayawati has gone through and how much samman ki rajniti means to millions of people. But it does not mean that the demand is illegitimate. Furthermore, like Laloo, I think Mayawati will also find that there are limits to the samman ki rajniti.

  13. on liberal and bahujan permalink
    April 26, 2009 10:39 AM

    I disagree with the the Ravi and Educated. Their responses suggest that they willing to give concessions to Modi, but seem critical of Mayawati. Maybe what disturbs them is her caste and gender character. What i find interesting is that people like shivam are looking for responses like those given by Ravi and Educated. Such reactions allows him to take high moral ground and dodge the real criticism made by like Mihir Sharma in Indian Express. Shivam likes to employ rhetoric over reasoned argument! I would still like to hear his views and criticism of the content of sharmas article. And his justification of BSPs ticket to DP Yadav and Mukhtar ansari. Bhojka like most middle class radicals (not liberals) is willing to wait and then decide on mayawati! What she is doing now is of course an aberration and should be ignored. Otherwise it will come in way of the great egalitarian and just society that she wants to construct in the future.

    • April 26, 2009 8:30 PM

      You hit the nail on the head when you say, “What i find interesting is that people like shivam are looking for responses like those given by Ravi and Educated.”

      By the way did you notice I’ve silenced “educated!” For all his education he’s been left speechless by a Mayawati supporter!

      More seriously, it’s not that the ‘Educateds’ and the Ravis of the world have been created by me. They exist and Maywati exists. The Congress is full of the Educateds and the BJP of the Ravis. That’s precisely why need Mayawati. We need Mayawati exactly because she makes these two uncomfortable to the core. We need Mayawati because she shakes up the kind of values that the elites think are their foundation: the middle class values that think Caste is bad but so is inter-caste marriage; that separates the tea cus for the maids; that employs a certain Dalit caste to clean the toilets and they can’t enter from the main door. See this film called “India Untouched”. Good or bad, that’s why we need Mayawati. You can go on arguing in rational, intellectual terms. But even if Mayawati is no good except for the false, momentary hope and cheer for 220 million people that one of their own has defeated the ‘creamy layer’ of Indian society with the help of Babasaheb’s Constitution… how do you argue with emotions?

  14. April 26, 2009 12:03 PM

    My problem with the Maya-hating elites, dear “educated!”, is not that the elites are educated but that the elites think Mayawati is uneducated.

    well said, Shivam

  15. jaibhim permalink
    April 26, 2009 12:34 PM

    >>You can talk nonsense but just the ability to do >>so fluently counts for something in our country.

    what a nonsense!
    these are the kind of elites available in our country
    gosh, why cant be blessed with a better educated and sensible elite
    we have to call these morons as elites
    shame on us

  16. Mihir permalink
    April 26, 2009 6:01 PM

    Tarunabh: thanks for the Kesavan link, I wished I’d read that article before writing mine. I agree with most of what you say, but it has a nuance that people don’t like to hear in these times.

    Shivam: You know I’m sympathetic to your points, and you know the one point about the post I really object to *grin*. Incidentally, Ashutosh Varshney is far, far harsher on Mayawati than I would be; I gather he thinks of her as a failure. That quote is misleading, in that it states something that almost everyone can agree with unqualifiedly. (Except the tone-deafness about the civil rights movement, which was, consciously, never framed in terms of aspirations for a class or race, but in terms of access to basic rights.) Tarunabh, Varshney made just the points you make in exactly the same way you made them in a recent discussion.

    Bhochka: I’d love to think that this post, and previous posts on the subject, are about the massive historical significance of the Mayawati-as-PM possibility. Except they’re not, at all, so your comment doesn’t make sense. They’re about something else altogether, about how that significance is sufficient to outweigh other concerns. I’m not even disagreeing that that might be a defensible position. I’m merely saying that thinking that that position (that the symbolism and its possible power outweighs all) can be disagreed with without feeling guilty. In fact, should. The subtext — ok, actually the direct text of these posts: no, you can’t think danger might outweigh symbolic instrumentality without being a casteist elitist foreign-educated babalog-type who’s never seen the inside of a village and doesn’t understand the effects of historical deprivation. Peh. (Unfortunately, Shivam makes assumptions about the context from which I write that aren’t justified by my personal history — and really shouldn’t be part of the argument at all. But that’s par for the course in this subject.)

    Suresh: Mulayam, famously, doesn’t approve of English. But I think that Mayawati refusing to conform to what’s expected of other politicians could be considered politically appropriate for her. But the Sonia comparison is interesting, thanks. There’s something visceral in the hatred of Sonia that peaked some years ago that I sense in the distaste for Maya as well, and that disturbs me. Might be a gender thing, I can’t quite put my finger on it.

  17. April 26, 2009 8:07 PM

    ‘What she is doing now is of course an aberration and should be ignored. Otherwise it will come in the way of the great egalitarian and just society that she wants to construct in the future.’

    If this is the position I’ve taken in my response to Shivam’s post, well, that’s news to me. As for ‘waiting and deciding’, what other honest response can there be to a historical process that’s still unfolding and might go in any number of directions? Any judgments made now – and we all make these judgments – might turn out to be absurdly wrong. I freely confess to uncertainty on the question of what Mayawati’s politics will mean in the long or even short run (presumably none of us are astrologers), I don’t think any circumstances or histories of injustice can justify campaigning for a monster like Modi, as she once did, and I certainly don’t think that ‘what she is doing now should be ignored’. (As for being a ‘middle class radical’, I can only plead guilty.)

    None of this changes the fundamental point of this discussion, which I think is completely summed up in Shivam’s observation that the anxieties of the middle classes (yes, to which I belong) have to do with the fact that Mayawati ‘looks’ like their housemaid. The bulk of elite fears about Mayawati CAN simply be reduced to this. And if affiliation to the BSP, as Shivam suggests, gives Lucknow’s housemaids the confidence to stand up to their employers, and the dignity to confront their exploitation head-on, then there are changes happening – and yes, massively positive changes – which it would be myopic to ignore. The point is very simple: whatever Mayawati means or comes to mean, however any of our stances might change with regard to her, the rise of a party like the BSP in North India has a social significance that’s genuine. Whether we endorse or condemn Mayawati herself is a separate question: it’s all too easy to reduce a hugely important social process to the solitary figure of a charismatic politician, and applaud/demonize her on that basis. My plea is simply that we acknowledge that there are two questions here, which cannot be reduced to each other.

  18. April 26, 2009 9:03 PM

    Tarunabh and now Mihir himself have raised the point that it is inappropriate to call Mihir babalog, foreign-educated, etc., as if I’m not babalog/middle class/English-speaking, or as if such “stereotyping” can be a legitimate way of arguing. I agree and in my defence let me say that I was not ascribing such subjectivity to Mihir in a serious way. Just that since I know him, I was provoking, like an internal joke, and it should be taken as such. Same with the comparison with Shri Hindol Sengupta whose argument against Mayawati came consciously from a stated class subjectivity.

  19. April 26, 2009 9:03 PM

    Bhochka can I thank you for aiding me?

  20. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    April 26, 2009 11:27 PM

    Dear Hindu intellectuals,All national papers are run by hindu business lobby in India who are protecting the hindus and hindu led government.175 million dalits are not existed in India so leave for media representation.Why hindu business people run the medias and become the Rajya sabha members.every hindus in India always compares the Indian lobby to American or europians.Any how there is no harm in running the news papers by hindu businessmen but to become a Rajya Sabha member and milking the intrest from government is wrong, NO WHERE IN WORLD BUSINESS LOBBY WILL RUN NEWS PAPERS AND BECOME THE RAJYA SABHA MEMBERS.I would like to give example,Hindustan times is a Part of K>K>Birla groups and managed by Shoubhana Bhartiya.Shobhna Bhartiya is a grand daughter of G>D>Birla.She has been nominated as Rajya sabha member in 1986.come to times of India ,which is managed by Sahu Jain family .Jaideep Bose is editor of times of India who is in pipeline of Rajya sabha member.Indian express was started by congress member Varadaraju Naidu in 1932 but now run by another hindu business lobby mr Ram nath Goenka family.The hindu is being run by N.Ram family.these all four news papers are being run by hindu business lobby who are protecting their hindu led government and return they get rajya sabha seats in parliaments.India is a country run by hindus and for the hindus and their is no land for dalits and minorities in India.Five dalits were burnt alive in haryana in front of DM <SSP and 500 police men but hindu led forces did not opened the fire to save the five dalit lives.this incidence was not reported by ANY HINDU NATIONAL NEWS PAPERS.Dear VIJ ,without foreign help you can not stop the dalit holocaust in India.hindu business lobby is having nexus with news papers,hindu led government ,all three are join together who are protecting each other.lets foreign medias come to India why you hindus are not welcoming the foreign medias,this is called hindu brotherhood.Mayawati is having the law degree from Delhi University,If she does not speak english ,it does not means she is not educated.I met thosands of people in europe,who are illitrate but can speak english better then any hindu intellectuals.The daily pioneer editor is a Rajya sabha member and was a borker for BJP and BJD government in Orissa ,what a shame on hindus and their hindu led government in India.Indian national papers are not national papers but a hindu toilet papers who are protecting the hindu ass in India including their hindu led government.

  21. skeptical permalink
    April 27, 2009 1:03 AM

    and what is your opinion shivam, about mayawati campaigning for modi after the gujrat riots?

    i will never vote for the bjp over my dead body. nor do i have anything against those who are educated/uneducated leaders…they may will prove to be far more stronger administrators than what one would expect.

    however, what is perturbing about mayawati is, that despite her historically discriminated background – both as a woman and a dalit, she did not hesitate to form a coalition government with the bjp a few years back and in 2001 encouraged dalits in gujrat to vote for modi as she smiled merrily along with him for the press.

    so why should i vote for someone like her, who only seems to be concerned about cementing her votebank, irrespective of whether she alies with the bjp or the congress?

  22. Mihir permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:02 PM

    Shivam, of course I don’t mean you in particular. But I do mean that questioning antecedents is par for the course in this area. When identity is all, the commenters identity is rarely permitted to be irrelevant.
    Bhochka: “The bulk of elite fears about Mayawati CAN simply be reduced to this.” Much of the exaggerated fear can. Not all of it. I’d say not most, actually. I don’t know how we can claim to know one way or the other.

  23. April 27, 2009 3:09 PM

    Mihir: agreed, that was a hyperbolic statement, made up of a blend of ‘information’, personal experiences, and anger. Of course I can’t claim to ‘know for good’ – but I stick to a strong belief that a certain (I’d continue to say dominant) structure of upper/middle-class apprehension about Mayawati is based on fear and the – conscious or unconscious – assumption of naturally ordained privilege. And that this takes very precise forms – political movements like Youth For Equality, for instance, or the tenor of much TV coverage. On Mayawati herself, I certainly don’t believe that ‘it’s illiberal to worry’ – though many of my worries, I suspect, might differ from yours. And finally, on the question of ad hominem arguments based on personal antecedents, I agree strongly, both with your responses to Shivam and with his subsequent clarification.

  24. Rohit permalink
    April 28, 2009 8:03 AM

    Bhochka, Shivam. Mayawati worries a lot of people, and I don’t think the reasons are necessarily the same. I am not sure there is a reductive Hindol Sengupta model to explain “elite attitudes” and neither do we have a homogenous elite.

    I suspect there is someone who would scare the “elites” far more than Mayawati, and that is Prakash Karat. (In fact Gurcharan Das ranted on IBN that he preferred Mayawati plus Congress or BJP to Prakash Karat). I suspect if Mulayam had a serious shot at being PM people would start throwing a hissy fit as well.

    Caste, class, and gender are signs not symbols.
    We often mistake the echo chamber i.e. English language television news to even accurately represent elite sentiments. A sizable share of power is exercised by politicians who do not fit the Babalog description. These include Prime Ministers (Deve Gowda), deputy PMs (Jagjivan Ram) high ranking cabinet ministers (Mamata Bannerjee, Paswan and Laloo), Chief Ministers (Karunanidhi, Gowda). I can’t find a non nasty way of putting this, but post Mandal there are several politicians who could look like “their housemaids/maalis”.

    And I recognize that the gender, caste, class positions of both the politician and “elite” mediate their attitudes towards each other. However, it would be simplistic to say that dalit/woman/non-English speaking = not politically acceptable. Meira Kumar or Jamuna Devi (the Congress leader of opposition in MP who is an adibasi) can leverage class against other identities. Jayalalitha despite being English speaking elites is portrayed as a unpredictable virago. Mamata Bannerjee despite the lack of cultural capital manages to mount an effective challenge in Bengal.

    I agree that “samman ki rajniti” and dalit empowerment of the BSP variety upsets social order of elites, but possibly more so of middle castes and village elites than the NDTV watching/Hindustan Times variety.

    What really scares elites is someone who is willing to use brutal force against them and somone who is unpredictable . So it’s when Mayawati forcibly acquires posh Lucknow bungalows to expand her official residence or destroys a stadium to build the Ambedkar memorial that people get worried. It worries them that Mayawati will push for reservations in the private sector (the same way it worries them that Prakash Karat might decide to unravel liberalization).

    • April 28, 2009 6:21 PM

      Rohit: I agree with a lot of what you say. Most of all, I think it’s true, as you say, that the BSP’s rise essentially threatens middle castes and locally entrenched village and small-town elites. Indeed, I’d go further and say that this is the true social significance of its rise, and has to be the basis for any hopes it can claim to hold out. On the other hand, I don’t really believe that Mayawati poses a genuine threat to India Shining and the predatory, land-grabbing, viciously anti-poor policies that govern us. Will she reverse these policies if PM? I seriously doubt it.

      At the same time, I believe there’s more to be said about the ‘Hindol Sengupta model’. You’re absolutely right that there’s no homogeneous elite, that there’s something reductive about seeing the ‘echo chamber’ as an accurate reflection of the elite in its fullness. The ‘Indian elite’, after all, if the term is to have any analytic purchase, comprises distinct, hierarchically ordered and even clashing social segments. But to clarify my point, I think we need to make a distinction between the actual representative capacity of the Hindol Sengupta ‘structure of feeling’, which is limited, quite possibly, to a minority of ‘real elite opinions’, and its dominance, which I think is real. The question of whether it ‘speaks for’ an intra-elite majority is perhaps less important than the fact that it structures a dominant culture of public discourse (TV channels that are plush with funds and resources and access to the powerful and the rich), and also symbiotically feeds into and is fed by the main lines of government policy (as distinct from ‘politics’). The completely unthinking use of a set of stock phrases by most anchors on 24-hour English news channels – summed up best by ritualized appeals to an entirely mythical figure of ‘WE, the public!’ – is, I think, a very clear example of how this elite constitutes itself. This kind of ‘dominant elite opinion’ has far more to do with both real and symbolic capital than it does with representativeness, even within elite circles. It’s the very concrete power that ‘India Shining’ exerts that defines this dominance, even if it actually speaks for a very infinitesimal social fraction.

      The significance of this public discourse is not just limited to the rhetoric of, say, an Arnab Goswami, to take just one of the more odious examples – for it exerts a real, and often decisive, pressure, upon policy-making, and is in its turn sustained by such policy-making. Another example – which Monobina Gupta’s superb recent Kafila post on Lalgarh touches on – is the knee-jerk way in which very real and powerful social movements on the ground are rendered, always, in the terms of turf battles between rival political parties and ‘vote-banks’. What more convenient way is there of short-circuiting the attempt to actually understand a social movement? And what more effective way is there of essentially reproducing a vision that the state wants to feed us – of politics as contending vote-banks, stripped of belief (except in the form of irrational ‘fanaticism’) and real struggle? And through these processes, a certain kind of ‘elite’ does get constituted, with a regular set of priorities and principles, and regular rhythms of self-representation – it gets constituted in a strange blurred zone where the real and the imagined intersect.

      As for your point about the threat posed by Prakash Karat: it raises the question of whether the ‘real’ threat to ‘India Shining’ might not be posed by an ideologically principled Left, rather than anyone else. I so desperately wish I could agree – there’s nothing I would like better to see in Indian politics than a genuine democratic Left confronting a neoliberal state and elite. But after Singur, Nandigram, Chengara, and Lalgarh, and the contempt and brutality towards peasants, workers and adivasis exhibited in the Left Front’s responses to these movements, I simply don’t believe that’s happening. This Left has no political alternative to neoliberalism to offer, merely the occasional, top-down regulatory measure and the rhetoric of ‘anti-imperialism’. I’d love to be proved wrong, and I mean it, but I just don’t see it happening. Gurcharan Das may be scared, but he has nothing to worry about.

  25. April 28, 2009 4:23 PM

    Just a small point about “governance”. I lived in UP for two years, the first under Mayawati’s rule, the second under Mulayam. Mayawati’s “governance” seemed way way better than Mulayam’s in my subjective view. Things were safer, got done quickly, projects moved along rapidly, and in general, there was an air of efficiency, at least in Lucknow. Public works projects were carried out well, and finished rapidly.

    When Mulayam took over, I thought things really went to the dogs rapidly in almost every way. Unsafe streets, rise in crime and violence, and incomplete projects everywhere. In addition, there was university elections related violence (after Mulayam lifted the ban Mayawati imposed on university elections).

    Some of my closest friends who have lived in UP for years agree with this assessment. They say that Mayawati’s governance has been better not just than Mulayam, but also than the several BJP CM’s the state has seen over the years. And that the so-called brahmin swing in her favor arises from some people rationally and objectively looking back and realizing this.

  26. April 28, 2009 6:23 PM

    The numbers are rolling

    So are the days

    Once upon a time in India

    A crow sat in a tree and a pigeon on a temple nearby

    The pigeon made a painting on the parapet

    With what you can call shit

    The crow cleaned the garbage area

    With what you call its beak

    It ate the leftovers and never questioned

    Even when the UNESCO made the parapet painting

    A world heritage site

    Millions came to see the shit

    Were amazed at the feat

    At what a pigeon can do in here

    They drank water from plastic bottles

    And threw them wherever they could

    Green bottles with all gyaan

    But nobody took the gyaan

    The poor children needed the bottles

    It was indeed cool to carry it to the defecation mine-fields

    They compared the size and colours and cracked jokes

    About the people being amazed at the pigeon shit

    They laughed and changed their spots while relieving

    Hoping to create another heritage site

    This is the fact that I live with

    This is the truth that I live with

    No matter what you try to do

    No matter what you have already tried

    It’s a world without end

    It’s a world without end.

  27. skeptical permalink
    April 29, 2009 7:53 PM

    i have been living in lucknow since the past 23 years. and unlike your friends gaurav, i haven’t witnessed any air of effeciency under her ‘governance.’ that’s a separate issue that u.p or lucknow has seen any change for the better in decades.

    what i have seen is ambedkar parks constructed after swapping lands from poor farmers at dirt cheap prices and hospitals not being made, but renamed.

  28. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    April 29, 2009 10:41 PM

    What aabout hindu temples who are coming on government lands every day in Lucknow.100% of hindus temple built on government land,dear skeptical.first you go and demolished the hindu temple which was built on government land then talk about ambedkar sthal.

  29. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    April 29, 2009 11:04 PM

    Dear Hindu intellectuals,Please have a look what was written on Myawati by Hindus tan time o editor mr Vir singhvi,One way to end all this talk of a Third Front and to give Mayawati a reality check would be for the Congress and the BJP to announce that they will not support a Third Front government. The BJP should say that Third Front constituents are welcome to join the NDA but that the BJP will head any government it participates in or even supports. Similarly, the Congress should declare that it will head a secular government at the Centre. Other parties are welcome to join as allies.

    Once both parties make this clear, then the enthusiasm for the Third Front will fade. The Left will have less success in tempting regional leaders with dreams of national glory. The Third Front’s constituents will realise that the project is doomed and will drift to national parties.

    And as for you and me, we can sleep well at nights again. We may not get the government we really desire. But at least we won’t have to worry about Behenji selling the Taj Mahal or about India throwing its future away as a bunch of regional politicians sit and squabble in South Block.

    The truth is we need a two-party system. It’s either the Congress or the BJP. There is no third option.

    And there should be no Third
    I would like to tell these hindu moran Vir singhvi and other hindu intellectuals that your first PM was died of Syphlitis aortitis,and another hindu PM was drinking his own urine who was famous for europe and America for murarka,another Hindu PM was drunkad and womeniser whom Vir singhvi are praising ,shame on Vir Singhvi and their news papers.time is not far away when dalits will hold the Mr singhvi by neck and give him a big punch.Hindus are worried about mayawati because they would not get easy mony and not able to fools the masses.

  30. skeptical permalink
    April 30, 2009 1:58 PM

    dear kumarpushp,

    i couldn’t agree with you more over the ridiculous contentions made by vir sanghvi. in fact, what he is suggesting is extremely dangerous for a democracy like ours, where localism and diversity is what we thrive for.

    government land, being used for building temples, mosques, ambedkar sthals, ram manohar lohia sthals (as done by SP in lucknow) or even a communist temple for marxist indoctrination are All Equally Bad simply by virtue of misusing a public space that could well be utilised for more socially constructive projects like schools, hospitals (named after their icons to maintain their symbolic value).

    i also have a problem, with people projecting mayawati as a “politically radical” option. no denying that she is a strong contender to compete with and her achievements are compounded by the fact that she comes from a historically denied group – woman/dalit/non-english speaking. but has her belonging to a politically (and socially) outcast group made any difference? has she joined hands with muslims and christians against the bjp and others who belong to the hindu right? the answer is a simple NO. surely you are not unaware of her campaigning for narendra modi or forming a coalition government with the bjp?and lalji tandon is her “rakhi brother.”

    so while i completely agree with your angst against the “Hindu Intellectual” i seriously do not see her as the pitch to contend against them. she seems more than willing to be a part of them on the contrary.

  31. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    May 9, 2009 10:13 PM

    Dear Skeptical,I am fully aware about mayawati who had supported modi in assembly election in gujrat.Do you think congress is secular ,I would say ,congress is most dangerous hinduwadi party who are making fool of dalits ,christians and muslims.Who had kept the statue of Rama and Krisna at Ayodhya in 1947,I would say ,this is congress who is hiding her face in name of secular party.BJP is a open enemy of dalits,muslims,and christians and we know about it.Mayawati does not have backup of hindu media and hindu business lobby so you can not run the government by own.Dalits,muslims,christians and buddhist are moving inch by inch towards their enemies and time is not faraway when enemies will be nacked in front of minorities and dalits.HIndu media ,hindu business lobby , hindu politicians and hindu intellectuals are the worst enemy of bahujan movement in India.Bahujan can not defeat their enemy by own ,they have to look for the friendly country for supports.

  32. richard permalink
    May 15, 2009 12:56 PM

    Seriously,

    Tell me the above comment is a joke.

    While I am not a fan of the Congress, considering that it did nothing to prevent us christians from being attacked in Orissa and the Babri Masjid was demolished in its regime, you think joing hands with the BJP will do discrimanted minorities in India any good?

    I don’t claim to know much about Mayawati, but such “strategic” suggestions are dangerous. Unless Mr. Kumarpushp is concerned only about the upward mobility of certain hindus within hindus…

  33. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    May 17, 2009 1:25 AM

    Dear Richard,India is a not nation but nation within the nation.every 6 hour ,one dalit woman is being raped by hindus and every 12 hour ,one dalit man is being killed by hindus.Kanshi Ram who had formed the BSP to make Indian society a horizental line and demolished the hindus caste Pyramid in India.All the atrocities on dalits,muslims ,christians,Buddhist are being done by hindus and accused will be never punished because courts,Police,Medias ,all are dominated by hindus who always help their cousins in name of Hindu dharma.Dr Ambedkar wanted a a civil society where minorities and dalits should walk in front of hindus with head up and without any fear hindu majority.

  34. richard permalink
    May 18, 2009 2:17 PM

    Hence you suggest that joining hands with a party that openly commiys these crimes is he way to go for dalits, muslims, chritians and other discrimanated minorities….makes Perfext sense.

  35. KUMARPUSHP permalink
    May 23, 2009 5:43 PM

    Do you think that congress and BJP are not anti minorities and anti dalits.This is the congress who had kept rama statue in Ayodhya in 1947.Dalits and minorities will have to from their own front to defend their properties and lives and no hindus will come to rescue the dalits and minorities.The same hindus had demolished the Babri Mosque,Golden temple and till doday they are occupying the Buddhist Bodh gaya temple.

  36. Nishant permalink
    April 18, 2010 4:30 PM

    Dear Kumarpushp, do remember that two wrongs do not make a right.

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