Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Will India Elect Mayawati its First Untouchable Prime Minister ?


While untouchables in India have generally been oppressed for centuries, there have been several high-profile examples of men and women from the lowest Hindu caste who have risen to high positions of power. The three Indians that stand out include India's first law minister and the architect of India's constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, former Indian President Dr. K.R. Nayaranan, and current UP Chief Minister Ms. Kumari Mayawati.

Unlike the president of India, Ms. Mayawati is not just a ceremonial token. She wields real power as the chief minister of India's largest state. Of the three well-known Indian untouchables, she is the most inspiring, living example to look up to for the poor, the women, the Muslims and the the lower caste Indians.

Ms. Mayawati has let it be known that she intends to make a bid for the Indian prime minister's position during the upcoming elections that must be held before May 2009. "When I can become the chief minister of the most populous state four times, why can I not become the prime minister of the country even if I am born in a Dalit (untouchable) family?" she told workers at a national convention of her Bahujan Samaj Party in the state capital of Lucknow Saturday, according to the Press Trust of India.

In addition to appealing to the lower caste Hindus and other minorities in India, Ms. Mayawati is expected to chip away at the Muslim support for her opponents to put together a winning coalition of constituents unhappy with the Congress rule and unwilling to support the right-wing BJP, the Hindu nationalist party of former prime minister Vajpayee. Ms. Mayawati’s efforts to create a dent in the Muslim support base of the Samajwadi Party (and the Congress), and to further consolidate her party’s hold on the minority community, have intensified with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president meeting a delegation of leading Muslim clerics at her official residence on Wednesday, according to a report in The Hindu newspaper.

Regardless of one's views about Mayawati's personality or politics, she is a unique individual in South Asia. Laloo Prasad Yadav of Bihar comes close, but there is no one like a Mayawati in Pakistani politics. Mayawati's success and democracy have been possible in India because Nehru and the Congress party carried out extensive and early land reform in India that emasculated the big feudal lords. Ambitious and assertive Pakistani military has stood in the way of democracy in Pakistan. But democracy has not thrived in Pakistan partly because landowning has traditionally been the social base from which most politicians emerge, especially in rural areas. The PPP, the current ruling party, its leadership, and parliament members consist almost exclusively of the powerful feudal zamindars who have repeatedly failed the people when they have had a chance to govern Pakistan.

As India has seen the rise of the untouchables supported by the central government's quota programs in education and employment, its Muslim minority has continued to lag in terms of educational and economic opportunities. In 2006 a commission appointed by the government revealed that Muslims in India are worse educated and less likely to find employment than low-caste Hindus. Muslim isolation and despair is compounded by what B Raman, a hawkish security analyst, was moved after the most recent attacks to describe as the "inherent unfairness of the Indian criminal justice system", wrote Pankaj Mishra, an Indian writer in a recent Op Ed piece for the Guardian newspaper.

Mishra further wrote, "To take one example, the names of the politicians, businessmen, officials and policemen who colluded in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 are widely known. Some of them were caught on video, in a sting carried out last year by the weekly magazine Tehelka, proudly recalling how they murdered and raped Muslims. But, as Amnesty International pointed out in a recent report, justice continues to evade most victims and survivors of the violence. Tens of thousands still languish in refugee camps, too afraid to return to their homes." Predictably, Mishra says, the Hindu nationalists, most of them resident in the UK and US, inundated his email inbox, accusing him of showing India in a bad light. It's not just the Hindu nationalists that are in denial of the facts about Muslim deprivation and suffering in India, the Indian Muslim elite such as Fareed Zakaria, several Muslim image-makers and Bollywood stars promote the exaggerated image of India as a "peaceful, stable and prosperous" democracy.

Let's hope Mayawati's success as chief minister (and prime minster, if elected) inspires the common people in all parts of South Asia, including the Muslim minority in India, to assert themselves and bring true and diverse Lincolnesque democracy of the people, for the people and by the people to the region. Having suffered discrimination by Hindu nationalists, Mayawati, a Dalit, is more likely to appreciate the suffering of Indian Muslims and be proactive in alleviating it.

18 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

The Principal Secretary of the state's Welfare Department, Vijay Prakash, has recently proposed that the lowest caste untouchables in Bihar (called Musahar) should eat rats to deal with hunger and malnutrition.

"There are twin advantages of this proposal. First, we can save about half of our food grain stocks by catching and eating rats and secondly we can improve the economic condition of the Musahar community," he told the BBC.

According to Mr Prakash, about 50% of total food grain stocks in the country are eaten away by rodents.

He argues that by promoting rat eating more grain will be preserved while hunger among the Musahar community will be reduced.

He said that rat meat is not only a delicacy but a protein-enriched food, widely popular in Thailand and France.

Ibrahim Delhavi said...

I like this posting sir. Your comments r really insightful. You captured Mayawati from regional perspective. That is really helpful. Caste and class discrimination is shared all over Subcontinetn.

Please in future sir write more articles like this. Usually u write some BS about Karachi stocks (without basis in realities) and then some pro-Musharraf ya MQM articles that reflect your political loyalties but not your intelligence.

Anonymous said...

I read the same article..
Vijay Prakash was suggesting even 5 star hotels to include rats in the menu.The above mentioned community already eat rats as do(did) some others due to poverty...So there is not need to suggest to that community to eat rats again..
read that bbc piece again..
Personally as a vegan, I don't subscribe to eating rats or any other animals including humans, if there is a non-violent choice left. The rodent menace can be curbed if habitats of snakes and snakes themselves are not killed for no reason.

Anonymous said...

"..Having suffered from Hindu Nationalists,Mayavathi.."
There are so many factually wrong presumptions in this article (apart from bias which i won't address)

-> Mayavathi is 'just one of the opportunist politicians' who supported BJP-led NDA govt(Vajpayee as PM) in its 6 years rule in India upto 2004 from 1998.So suffer(ed)(ing) from Hindu Nationalists is a big hollow charge.One thing I would educate you about is that there is a subsection of Hindu nationalist forces that are mainly driven by Dalit-Tribal combo i.e.VHP and Bajrang Dal.I think whenever you mention Hindu Nationalists,I get a feeling that you inherently assume that they are all upper caste people which is far from truth.

->Mayavathi has rised to prominance not only from Dalit votes, she was also voted by brahmins as well as dalits. by clever social engineering tactics..
for more refer:
http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/may/11maya.htm

->Her party have no politcal manifestos or ideology. She has amassed assets spanning crores and she is under CBI investigation for disproportionate assets.Her party BSP, was a very well meaning party which was led by Kanshi Ram. It was hijacked by Mayavati very perversely and turn it into a vehicle which grabs power and wealth for her.

-> The best example for a Dalit who rise to power is Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam who is a space scientist as well as father of indian missile program known as IGMDP. He is the youth icon of India loved by all Indians because of his Vision 2020.

libertarian said...

Mayawati as symbolism for glass-ceiling breaking is great. Mayawati as an administrator is more of the same familiar disaster. For her to aspire to Prime Minister-hood is great symbolism. In the interest of decent governance, this blogger hopes she never gets there.

Nitish Kumar in Bihar is currently making liars of all those who claim that the "Bimaru" (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, UP) states of India are essentially ungovernable. So Mayawati has no excuse for bad governance.

Also Laloo Prasad's success with the Indian Railways has everything to do with the same Nitish Kumar turning the Railways around before Laloo took over.

Riaz: your points on "Muslim deprivation" need some calibration. A disproportionate number of Muslims live in screwed-up states of India - 30% of UP and Bihar alone (total population 280M ==> 84M Muslims in those 2 states alone). While there is certainly anecdotal evidence of discrimination - no-one in their right mind will claim there is not - it's not clear it translates into a big enough systemic bias to keep Muslims "downtrodden". For example, the Sachar Commission concluded that India's 13% Muslim population contributes about 6% of its GDP. But if more than half that population resides in UP and Bihar where the GDP per capita (across the population) is less about 50% of the national average, the numbers for Muslims are not statistical anomalies.

Riaz Haq said...

Libertarian: You make some good points about Matawati's fitness as an administrator and backwardness of UP and Bihar where most of the Muslims reside. However, the fact that Muslims lag significantly behind the untouchables is very telling. It shows that the kind of social engineering done for the low-caste Hindus can help Indian Muslims as well. Besides, I do not know of any examples of the kind of murder and mayhem perpetrated by Narender Modi & Co that targeted Indian Dalits in the same way as Muslims have been systematically victimized. What happened in Gujarat (and the impunity of its rulers) is a big black spot on an otherwise ok Indian democracy.

libertarian said...

Riaz: It shows that the kind of social engineering done for the
low-caste Hindus can help Indian Muslims as well.


It doesn't seem that there's a lack of effort. Manmohan Singh actually claimed (after the Sachar Commission Report) that Muslims need to have first dibs on the nation's resources! That's beyond social engineering - it's reverse discrimination. For political reasons - Muslims being a relatively monolithic vote-bloc - it's hard to imagine Muslim rights being trampled.

One response to that charge of discrimination is that Muslims must play that their part. The poorer Muslims live in ghettos with widespread ignorance and fear of the opportunities out there. Integration into the mainstream is pre-requisite for that to be successful. Seems there is much truth in a Sikh friend's observation that Sikhs have been successful in India by integrating without assimilating. There is also that matter of a high Muslim birth-rate: high birth-rate has definite correlation with increased poverty.

Besides, I do not know of any examples of the kind of murder and mayhem perpetrated by Narender Modi & Co that targeted Indian Dalits

That's muddying the waters a bit. Narendra Modi's genocide was something every Indian ought to hang their head in shame for. But linking that pogrom with the sub-par performance of Muslims in the economic or political spheres is a stretch.

Riaz Haq said...

Libertarian: You said, " Narendra Modi's genocide was something every Indian ought to hang their head in shame for. But linking that pogrom with the sub-par performance of Muslims in the economic or political spheres is a stretch.

Well, have you heard about Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It basically says that a sense of security is a very basic need of every human being. It's only after you have that basic sense of security that you aspire for bigger and better things in life. After Babri Masjid riots and Gujarat massacre, the Muslim minority has lost that very basic sense of personal security in India.

Mavin said...

Unfortunately, this sense of insecurity (as you say) is always kept alive. One keeps beating the same drum because it serves nefarious political ends.

We also have not seen courageous and enlightened Muslim leaders who can show the way and fight against this ghetto mentality.

This has turned into a vicious cycle and every time this insecurity is played on, the weaker sections retreat further into a shell where religion is a comforting factor.

The moot question is - How and when will this cycle be broken and who will lead the charge?

Incidentally, for all the vitriol poured on Narendra Modi, Gujarat has recorded GDP growth higher than India average and a largish percentage of local Muslim population is also the beneficiary. (Definitely could be more)

Secondly, an important and often overlooked point. If the Gujarat riots were a state sponsored pogrom - please remember almost eight hundred Hindus were also massacred.

Blood stained hands exist beyond what has been loudly trumpheted.

Mavin said...

Mayawati is a phenomenon who cannot be ignored.

Numerical superiority and smart social positioning could ensure her arrival a 7, Race Course Road, if not in 2009, definitely by the next general elections.

If that happens, it will represent
true democratisation, if you will. Her's would be a great common citizen to first citizen story.

Powerful vested interests will try and place hurdles in her way or you might have convenient alliances to prevent her rise. You will also witness the anglicised elite ridicule her attempts for the top job.

I wonder why anyone should have a problem with her. If we have accepted democracy as a way of life in India, then we must also respect that verdict which puts her on the top.

As regards corruption, it has been accepted as an inseparable part of politics. Others have refined their methods of wealth amassing. She has yet to learn....no great shakes...Learn she will along the way.

Riaz Haq said...

Mavin,
You said "Incidentally, for all the vitriol poured on Narendra Modi, Gujarat has recorded GDP growth higher than India average and a largish percentage of local Muslim population is also the beneficiary."

First of all, high GDP growth is no defense for crimes against humanity. Secondly, Gujratis, regardless of religion or location or caste, are very entrepreneurial people. They are successful in business in the US, UK, Pakistan, India, East Africa and South Africa. So, Narender Modi government in Gujarat can not take credit for what the people of Gujarat accomplish on their own, in spite of the misdeeds of the BJP government in Gujarat. In fact, I believe, Gujarat will do even better if the law and order situation improves and human rights of all its residents are respected.

Mavin said...

I expected that, yours, a rational voice far from the ring so to say would present a different perspective on Indian Muslims.

Sadly, though, this was not to be.

Gujarat riots, like many other themes, grate like a stuck record. The real world has moved fast and far from that point.

The real challenge before us is not Gujarat but getting Muslims to get out of their ghetto mentality, regain self-confidence and move towards partaking of the economic benefits of education, business, trade and commerce.

The unanswered questions -
Who leads this change?
What contribution is called for from the state and others?
Should the canvas be just muslims or should it cover all disadvantaged classes?

There are no easy answers but this is critical for developing an egalitarian society......

The challenge is demolishing privileged centres and democratising all aspects of life.

Riaz Haq said...

Please do not mistake for an India-basher. If you read my blog posts, you will see that I admire India's secular democracy and its great leaders like Gandhi and Nehru and India's many accomplishments. I have also been very critical of Pakistan's treatment of its minorities and advocated a more secular government that treats all of its people equally.

As an objective observer, though, I feel India has a lot of room for improvement to serve its people and become an inspiration for other South Asians. Gujarat's Modi government can not and must not be defended. They are criminals who should be held accountable in order for justice to prevail.

It's easy for you and I to move on, but put yourself in the shoes of those thousands in Gujarat who have lost their loved ones or continue to languish in refugee camps because the criminals are still governing the state of Gujarat. They can not move on. Nor should other human beings, including the fair-minded Indians, who want justice and accountability for all.

Anonymous said...

All said is good to the ears, but look at the reality. How is pakistan behaved with Hindus and christians. Do you still want to be called Muslim state or is it good to be a secular state. India has struggled to get a secular tag and thats the reason the world trusts India more than Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

More News about violence against minorities in India from BBC:

Thousands of Catholic schools are shut across India in protest against continuing anti-Christian violence in the eastern state of Orissa.

Eleven people have died after a Hindu leader was killed in the state's Kandhamal district last Saturday.

Authorities said Maoist rebels were behind the killing, but some Hindu groups have accused Christians.

Over 3000 police have been deployed but attacks on churches continue. Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting analysis of how Pakistan has changed in this decade by a Ahsan, a blogger on Five Rupees:

In the last decade, this picture has changed dramatically due to three central factors.

The first and most important factor is the explosion of private electronic media. In the 1990s, it was difficult for most Pakistanis -- the vast majority of which cannot or do not read newspapers -- to get information that was not government-sponsored or, less mildly, propagandistic. ....

This picture has changed drastically, as anyone with even a cursory interest in Pakistan will be able to tell you. There are now dozens of news channels in Pakistan, each with their own ideological and partisan bent. Some are national-level, others more regionally and ethnically focused. The trend began in the early part of this decade and has plateaued only recently, as the market gets sated. And while few of these channels will win awards for calm understatement or presciently sedate analysis, the fact remains that the media -- if it can be spoken of as a collective -- has given voice to a mass of the population previously unheard from. It has become a player of truly monumental importance for its ability to shape, mold, and excite the public. It is, at once, sensationalistic, blood-thirsty, xenophobic, conspiratorial, humorous, investigative, and anti-government. And yet its arrival on the scene is more than welcome, first for providing the venue for disenfranchised interests to make themselves known and second because the alternative is much worse.

The second significant factor, related to but distinct from the first, is the rise of communication technologies in Pakistan, particularly cellular phones. In 2002, there were 1.2 million cell-phone subscriptions in the country. By 2008, this number had risen to 88 million -- an increase of more than seven thousand percent. In addition, more than one in ten Pakistanis had access to the internet by the end of the decade; low by advanced countries' standards but an astronomical rise by Pakistan's. These developments in communications meant that political narratives became congealed and disseminated at speeds never heard of before, and that information and the wider "war" for public opinion became incredibly hard to win if a battle was lost at any stage.

The third major factor is the economic growth that took place in Pakistan in the first half of the 2000s. Pakistan's GDP doubled between 1999 and 2007, and more than kept pace with population growth, as GDP per capita increased by almost sixty percent between 2000 and 2008. More to the point, this growth was overwhelmingly powered by expansion of the service sector, which is concentrated, quite naturally, in the urban centers of the country. For the first time since independence, the term "Pakistani urban middle class" was not a contradiction in terms.

This development had two effects. First, and more trivially, the urban middle class did what urban middle classes do: they bought televisions and computers. In turn, that allowed them to plug into the private media explosion in ways simply unimaginable previously. Second, it shattered the elite-only edifice of Pakistani politics, and made challenges to government based on Main Street issues -- the price of flour, the lack of electricity, the selective application of the rule of law -- a viable process. Fifty years ago, Seymour Lipset wrote one of the canonical articles in Political Science on the process of democratization, its relationship to urbanized middle classes, and how the demands and values of the latter lead almost inexorably to support for the former. Here was living proof of Lipset's analysis.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of "India: A Portrait" by historian Patrick French arguing that India is becoming a hereditary monarchy:

Is India sliding into a pseudo monarchy of sorts? In his splendid new book, India: A Portrait, historian Patrick French dredges up some startling data on the stranglehold of family and lineage on Indian politics.

The research finds that though less than a third of India's parliamentarians had a hereditary connection, things get worse with the younger MPs. Consider this:

Every MP in the Lok Sabha or the lower house of the Indian parliament under the age of 30 had inherited a seat.
More than two thirds of the 66 MPs aged 40 or under are hereditary MPs.
Every Congress MP under the age of 35 was a hereditary MP.
Nearly 40% of the 66 ministers who are members of the Lok Sabha were hereditary members.
Nearly 70% of the women MPs have family connections.
Interestingly, for MPs over 50, the proportion with a father or relative in politics was a rather modest 17.9%. But when you looked at those aged 50 or under, this increased by more than two and a half times to nearly half, or 47.2%.

Also most of the younger hereditary MPs - and ministers - have not made a mark and sometimes have been shockingly conservative in their actions. A young MP from feudal Haryana, for example, was seen to be cosying up to extra-constitutional village councils in the state which were punishing couples for marrying outside their caste and clan.

"If the trend continued," concludes French, "it was possible that most members of the Indian Parliament would be there by heredity alone, and the nation would be back to where it had started before the freedom struggle, with rule by a hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings." He also worries the next Lok Sabha will be a "house of dynasts".

Most agree that growing nepotistic and lineage-based power in the world's largest democracy is a matter of concern. "The idea of India," political scientist Mahesh Rangarajan told me, "is rent apart by these two contradictory impulses."

But nepotism is a part of India life; and politics mirrors society. Power, wealth, land and status have hinged to a large extent on who your parents were, what they owned and where they stood in society. Most Indian businesses continue to be owned and run by families though the new economy is throwing up more first generation entrepreneurs. Bollywood, India's thriving film industry, is dominated by sons and daughters of famous actors and producers. Three members of one family - Nehru-Gandhi - have held the post of prime minister. If the Congress party wins the next elections and PM Manmohan Singh steps down, there is a likelihood of the dynast Rahul Gandhi becoming India's next prime minister. (It is no surprise that 37% of the MPs - 78 of 208 - in Congress are hereditary compared to only 19% hereditary MPs - 22 of the 116 - in the main opposition BJP.)

Despite French's troubling data, all may not be lost. "Please remember," Dr Rangarajan told me, "the MPs have lineage as a huge plus, but the posts are not hereditary." In other words, if they fail to deliver, they will be voted out of power. Merit triumphed over dynasty in the recent elections in dirt-poor Bihar. So though lineage remains a key factor in politics, remind analysts, it can only give a headstart, and nothing more. Thank democracy for that.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece "In Dalit student suicides, the death of merit" by
Vidya Subrahmaniam, published in The Hindu:

New Delhi: He killed himself in his college library, unable to bear the insults and taunts. The suicide note recovered from his coat pocket charged his Head of the Department (HOD) with deliberately failing him and threatening to fail him over and over. Seven months later, a three-member group of senior professors re-evaluated his answer sheet and found that he had in fact passed the test.
Medical student Jaspreet Singh, a Dalit by birth, wanted nothing more than to become a doctor.
Tragically, he fulfilled his ambition posthumously. A year later, his young sister, a student of Bachelor of Computer Application, also committed suicide, heartbroken at the injustice done to her brother.
Shocking details about the January 2008 suicide of the Chandigarh-based student have emerged following recent investigations by Insight Foundation, a Dalit-Adivasi student group that has compiled a list of 18 suicides by Dalit students studying in reputed institutions of higher education across India in the past four years.
The Foundation has also uploaded two documentaries onto YouTube, titled “The death of merit” — one on Jaspreet and the other on Bal Mukund, a Dalit student from Uttar Pradesh, who studied at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and committed suicide in March 2010.
Jaspreet was in the final year at the Government Medical College in Chandigarh. He was an excellent student throughout, and had never failed in any subject until he reached the fifth and final year.
This is when his ordeal began. His HOD told him that he might have entered medical college using his Scheduled Caste certificate but he would not go out with a degree.
The professor failed him in Community Medicine, a crucial subject, and told him, according to the suicide note, that he will not let him pass.
Jaspreet had set his heart on a MD degree from the prestigious Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. The threat cut short that dream.
Jaspreet's father, Charan Singh, told The Hindu: “I have no reason to live anymore. What more evidence do they want?”
Indeed, the evidence is clinching in this case. Jaspreet's suicide note; a certificate affirming Jaspreet's handwriting from the Directorate of Forensic Science, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shimla; testimonies from Jaspreet's friends; and finally, the re-evaluation of the answer sheet by a three member body of doctors from PGI, Chandigarh. All three doctors, Rajesh Kumar, Amarjeet Singh and Arun Kumar Aggrawal, specialised in Community Medicine – the subject in which Jaspreet was failed. Yet till date, no action has been taken against the guilty HOD or the college.
In Bal Mukund's case, the AIIMS authorities seized on the fact that there was no suicide note. Their version was that Bal Mukund, who had attempted suicide once earlier, killed himself in depression.
But Bal Mukund's parents plaintively ask: “Who and what drove him to depression? He had repeatedly told us that he was harassed because of his caste. He was about to change his name. He also wanted to settle abroad to escape the humiliation of being born a Dalit.”