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.


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.

Anonymous 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:

->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 great shakes...Learn she will along the way.

Riaz Haq said...

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.

Anonymous 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.