BULAND SHAHR, INDIA
— They left home early in the morning to get a seat at the front of the
exhibition grounds for a campaign appearance by their political hero.
They settled in on the rough mat floor, in their best bright polyester
saris, prepared to wait for hours despite the 45-degree heat.
“I wanted to be sure I’d be able to see and hear her,” Rajesh Devi said happily.
Rajesh Devi’s devotion, and the loyalty of thousands of marginalized
Indians like her, is fuelling the phenomenon of India’s political
season: Mayawati, a woman born to the bottom rung of the country’s
social order, now aiming for the highest office in the land: prime
Mayawati, 53, is Scheduled Caste, the Aboriginal Inhabitant of Jambudipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha Bharath born and raised in a shack in a New Delhi slum by an
illiterate mother and a father who openly disdained his female
children. With ferocious determination and unmatched political wile,
she rose to the post of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s
Uttar Pradesh state Chief Minister Mayawati displays her voter identity
card and the indelible ink mark on her finger after casting her vote in
Lucknow, India. (Ajay Kumar Singh/AP)
Now, as Nation awaits the results, expected this Saturday, of its
marathon election, it is possible that she has succeeded in navigating
her country’s splintered politics to become the head of this would-be
That notion strikes horror in the hearts of the elites. They see an
unpolished woman who speaks no English.
But the prospect of a Prime Minister Mayawati thrills her simply
dressed, barefoot, callus-handed faithful, who would see the ascension
of one of their own as the fulfilment of their aspirations.
“We are the ones who sowed the seeds for the plant to grow big,” Rajesh
Devi declared with satisfaction as she sat in a circle with women from
her village and listed the reasons why they love Mayawati. “And now she
should become the prime minister.”
Rajesh Devi credits Mayawati for the low-interest 10,000-rupee bank
loan she used to buy a buffalo. Now she sells its milk and earns 400
rupees a day. Her neighbour Maruti Devi, 60, (like Mayawati, the women
use no surname but add the honorific Devi to indicate they are married)
is getting an old-age pension of 300 rupees a month. Shakuntala Devi
chimed in, bracelets on her thin arms tinkling as she gesticulated
enthusiastically. “Before a poor person was thrown out of the police
station if they tried to make a complaint,” she said. “Today you are
made to sit and served cold water.”
With mentor and party founder Kanshi Ram, Mayawati launched her
political career by uniting SC/STs through an intoxicating message –
that they are the “people of the majority” who must use the tools of
democracy to end their oppression. Over the past 20 years they have
built the Dalit movement into a national force – low castes make up
about 60 per cent of India’s voters – and have four times seized
control of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state.
But with typical politics, Mayawati realized some years ago
that she would need more than SC/STs to make it to the prime
ministerial seat, and so she declared her Bahujan Samaj Party the
champion of all minorities. She reached out to Muslims and “other
backward classes,” as they are called – economically marginalized
groups who are not in the lowest castes, such as Rajesh Devi and her
neighbours. In recent years Mayawati has even courted Brahmins – the
very top of the caste hierarchy – whom she once harangued as the source
of Dalit oppression, by appealing to their new fears of the “middle
castes,” landowners and merchants who have boomed into India’s
confident new middle class and usurped the Brahmins’ once-sacred place.
“She created a new social coalition of everyone who was not part of the
newly dominant castes,” explained Anand Kumar, an analyst with the
Centre for Indian Social Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New
Now Mayawati will go to the
capital. This election, which has been under way since mid-April
and which ends with the vote count on Saturday, is proving more opaque
than usual. None of the big parties is expected to win the numbers
needed to govern, and some traditional coalition alliances are in
tatters over issues such as the war in Sri Lanka and a nuclear deal
with the United States. New alliances and frenzied horse trading will
produce the new regime.
Mayawati is hoping to win enough seats to play kingmaker, and she has made clear her price is the top job.
This idea has sparked euphoria in some quarters, and revulsion in
others. “I can’t live in this country if she becomes prime minister,”
said Priya Singh, an English teacher from Uttar Pradesh now working in
New Delhi. She shuddered at the thought. “She’s just – horrible. It
would be an embarrassment for India.”
She has a teaching degree and
was studying law when she quit to join politics.
“There is a reason why the English-speaking elite hates her so much –
she looks too much like the maidservant who works for them,” said Ajoy
Bose, author of
Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati.
“But she’s not somebody who can be easily co-opted.… She thinks the way
she thinks. She’s an unknown.” The Indian media have demonized her, Mr.
Bose added, in part because a villain always makes a better story.
Mayawati rarely courts the media and declines all interview requests.
Mayawati’s hero, to whom she has built statues and shrines all over
Uttar Pradesh, is Bhimrao Ambedkar, who rose from a similarly grim
childhood early in the last century to become one of the first Scheduled Caste
to get a college education in India, then studied abroad, joined the
fight to end British rule and eventually became the chief architect of
India’s Constitution. But Dr. Ambedkar could speak in the plummy tones
of the elite and soothe their fears. Mayawati is uninterested in such
Caste remains the main organizing principle of life, especially in
rural India, Prof. Kumar said. Today caste groups vote in blocs, not
mindlessly for a politician of the same caste as they may have done in
the past, but rather as “interest groups.”
“There are now four blocks of votes in north India,” Prof. Kumar said.
“First, upper caste; second, middle caste [land-owning farmers and
others who have gained out of political and economic reforms of the
past 30 years]; third, Muslims and the fourth is SC/STs.”
Mayawati has manipulated those interest groups with great skill, Prof.
Kumar added, uniting three of those blocs against the fourth.
There is more than caste, however, to disturb her considerable camp of
detractors. Mayawati has used harsh tactics to fight her way to the top
in Uttar Pradesh, which with a population of 190 million is equivalent
to the sixth-largest country in the world. She has bent the rules, such
as using the Prevention of Terrorism Act to seize the property of an
opponent, and, just to make her point, declaring the duck pond at his
mansion a protected wildlife area, which she named after a SC hero.
“It chills you – she is extremely unscrupulous and ruthless,” Mr. Bose
said. Nevertheless, after years spent following her, he admires her.
“Her primary driving force has always been her personal ambition. Her
personal rise is the trajectory she wants for her community. And people
with personal drive can also be very committed to the poor.”
delight in the pictures of the woman they call Behenji (Hindi for
“honoured sister”) in her diamonds and silks and mansions. “It’s easy
to put blame, but she is innocent until proven guilty and so far no one
has been able to prove anything,” said Hemant Kumar Gaur, 45, a court
clerk who attended the Buland Shahr rally. “I think she’s an excellent
At the rally, the crowd was electrified when
Mayawati’s helicopter touched down in a cloud of dust. Many made a
futile effort to rush the stage through metal barricades and rows of
stick-wielding police. She mounted the stage in the frumpy beige
kurta-pajama she usually wears in public, and in a surprisingly deep,
scratchy voice scolded the crowd, reminding those who had gathered that
the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have done
nothing for them, the poor, despite ruling in turns since independence.
(Nearly half of all SC/STs in Uttar Pradesh live below the poverty
line, a figure about 10 points worse than the national average, and
that number has not changed appreciably during her time in charge.) She
went on to promise the crowd that when she is prime minister, she will
work for “reservations” for all “economically backward” classes in both
government and private jobs – that is, work to have even more jobs set
aside for specific groups, in the way that nearly half of civil service
jobs are now reserved for people from the lowest castes.
“I want to reassure the upper-caste people that if we come to the
centre we will also look to their concerns and demands,” she added
As usual, she made almost no mention of foreign policy – and said only
that she will “look after” terrorism and the Naxalite Maoist insurgency
that is rapidly spreading across India.
In truth, Mayawati’s political platform consists solely of the
intention to obtain power, and then, as she has every time she has won
the chief minister’s seat in Uttar Pradesh, to launch a massive
redistribution drive, funnelling public works projects, jobs and social
grants to areas dominated by SC/STs and other marginalized groups, and
to suspend or transfer officials who don’t make it a priority to boost
her constituents up the ranks of the vast civil service.
Mayawati has never married, and she is unique in this region as a
single female who has achieved political power on her own, rather than
as someone’s widow, wife or daughter.
“The most positive thing about her is not what she is,” – that Indian democracy is alive and well and
it is possible for a Scheduled Caste, a woman, with no political lineage and no
money at all to rise to where she is.”
In Buland Shahr, Mayawati pledged to share her success. “I hope we will
be able to realize the dream,” she shouted, and Rajesh Devi and all the
others shouted back in approval. “Uttar Pradesh is already ours, now
Delhi will be ours!”
Q & A : 21 November, 2006 - Dr. Robert Thurman, professor of
Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University has visited Bhutan
many times since the early 90s. On his most recent visit he spoke to
Kuensel on the changes he has seen, Buddhism and democracy and the
alienation of Bhutanese youth from their cultural moorings. (excerpts
from the interview)
Dr. Robert Thurman gave a talk in Thimphu on Thursday
Q This is the sixth or seventh time you have visited Bhutan. What brings you back this time?
A The usual thing. A group of people who want to do a pilgrimage rather
than tourism. And so we decided to have a retreat and practice
Buddhism, meditating and discussing the Dharma while visiting the holy
places in Bhutan.
Q What are the changes, good and bad, you have seen in Bhutan all these years?
A I don’t think I can see much bad because I come too quickly,
unfortunately. We hear that the young people, some of them are kind of
disillusioned and dissatisfied. But I don’t get to see that much
because I go to the monk places, the beautiful monuments and then go
walking in nature, meditate on the Buddhist path. So I don’t really see
the difficulties as much as I might if I was here for a longer period.
But I am sure that with the advent of television, the growth of
buildings and all the people moving from the villages to the city, all
of that brings its problems.
I am happy to see though that in the countryside you don’t see empty
villages, people look pretty cheerful still, so it doesn’t seem like a
disaster like it could be in some other parts of the world. It seems
things are still in a pretty good balance.
The change of government coming up with the King abdicating in 2008 and
the new Crown Prince coming to be as King and the advent of more
stronger constitutional democracy, these are big changes.
Q A lot of Bhutanese feel that Bhutan’s transition to democracy is premature. What do you think?
A Last year I was here and I looked at the provisional constitution
that is being finalised now and I can’t remember, I am sorry to say,
exactly but I was a little worried that the King might be giving up a
little too much power and I think it is important that the King retain,
at least for quite a period of time, some sort of a checking power over
the legislature, over the Assembly.
That’s going too quickly towards democracy, full democracy, without
having some power to check things, where people have not yet got used
to democracy and they are not educated fully for democracy it could
cause a lot of confusion. In America what we see is that the commercial
interests, the big corporations, tend to corrupt democracy therefore
there must be some strong force to oppose them or to keep them in
check. And the whole concept of Gross National Happiness and the
conservation of resources and keeping changes towards materialistic
development in a calm and gentle way I think is very much fostered by
Q Can the principles of democracy be derived from Buddhism?
A Buddhism has many principles that fit with democracy such as
individualism, allowing people to develop their own mind to the fullest
than having to serve whatever their duty is, parents, society etc. This
is very much in consonant with democracy. Buddhism teaches each person
to have the opportunity to develop their own being towards awakenment, to the fullest extent in life. That is the highest thing
in the society.
Out of that principle comes monasticism. A monk is supported by the
society to develop their knowledge and their spirituality and then also
the idea that education is so central and the idea that there should be
a welfare state and people’s basic needs should be met by the state.
Finally the idea that the people are equal and everyone should have
equal opportunity to develop them. These are all principles of
Buddhism, which in different western countries have been imperfectly
realised throughout history. Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia had been the
best and most successful in realising these principles although they
are not perfect.
The principles of Buddhism of awakenment, education, individualism,
and altruism and egalitarianism all of these are realised through
Specially, as Bhutan moves more democratically, the education system
for the lay people should include more instructions in the main
principles of Buddhism.
Buddhism as a science, as a philosophy, ethical system should be well
understood by the lay secular population. Then they see to a good
quality of democracy. This movement to democracy involves some serious
development in the educational curriculum.
Q Why is it that with modernization a lot of Bhutanese youth feel alienated from the moral principles of Buddhism?
A The point is how well educated is the youth in the moral principles
of Buddhism? They may feel alienated from the traditional idea that
Buddhism is going to the monasteries and offerings or bowing to the
lam. But that is just the faith oriented Buddhism and that’s good in
itself but for people who are educated in modern subjects like science
and history they have to be educated in Buddhism in a modern way to
really understand what is it about. In schools you should have courses
in Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist ethics.
Q Is it possible to attain enlightenment without being Buddhist?
A Yes I think so. Although the Buddhist philosophy and psychology about
realistic worldview and realistic meditation I think, to be fully
enlightened, that psychology and philosophy must be fully explored and
But you could do that without philosophy without formally being a
Buddhist. In Buddhism enlightenment comes through understanding reality
and not just through believing, not just through faith. If you think
Buddhism as a religion is somehow taking refuge and having faith then
that won’t necessarily produce enlightenment.
Q Is enlightenment nirvana or is there a difference between the two states?
A Enlightenment is same as nirvana and more than nirvana. It is also
the full understanding of Samsara because ultimately nirvana and
Samsara are same, but enlightenment is understanding the world. That is
how you attain nirvana because you have to understand that the reality
of the world is nirvana. If you believe that the reality of the world
is nirvana that could be helpful in trying to practice but that is not
going to give you enlightenment by just believing.
Q Can Buddhism be a remedy for personal and cultural maladies?
A In the west, the best teachers of Buddhism teaches Buddhism as a
psychology, philosophy and even therapy without insisting on the
religion side of it, but use that to develop wisdom.
Developing wisdom means doubting and being critical, it doesn’t
necessarily mean believing something. So maladies have to do with
people feeling dissatisfied, angry, anxious, frightened and Buddhism
has a psychotherapy. That’s why Buddhism has been so successful over so
many centuries because it helps people live better lives. It is the
http://www.kuenselo nline.com/ modules.php? name=News& file=article& sid=7746
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Compiled and preserved in Dr. Ambedkar Data CD -The creation and compilation with thousand of files, by:
Electioneering for final phase of polling ended today thus drawing
election campaign of Lok Sabha Elections 2009 to a close. The polling
for final phase will take place on May 13 in 86 parliamentary segments.
New Delhi (PTI) Campaigning for one of
the most bitterly fought Lok Sabha elections in recent years ended on
Monday, marking culmination of the five-phase month-long electioneering
with no clear signs of the winner.
A party or combine needs 272 seats in
the 545-member Lok Sabha in order to stake claim to form government.
Polling has been completed to 457 seats since the staggered exercise
began on April 16. Elections are held only to 543 seats as two members
are nominated from the Anglo-Indian community.
The final phase would see election of
Elections would be held to all 39 seats
in the key state of Tamil Nadu and four seats in Himachal Pradesh, two
in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 in West
Bengal, five in Uttarakhand and the lone one seat each in both
Chandigarh and Puducherry.
Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir are the only states to go to the polls in all the five phases.
Of the 1,432 candidates, there are just
93 women candidates in the fray.
Elections would be held across 1.21 lakh polling booths.
As many as 5,995 villages and hamlets have been identified as prone to intimidation and over 18,000 people troublemakers.
In the Indian Express, Vinay Sitapati has some useful advice for
Naxalite chief, CPI-Maoist General Secretary Ganapati, who “vows to
capture state power by planting the red flag on the red fort”:
Mayawati on the other
hand, might well capture state power by sticking with the tricolour atop the
red fort, but by standing below it on August 15th — and all without ever firing
from the barrel of a gun. In her autobiography, My Life of Struggle and the
Path of the Bahujan Movement, Mayawati praises the Constitution for empowering
“weaker sections”, and suggests its use as a tool to capture power. In between
re-reading Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book in the forests of Dandakaranya,
Ganapati could perhaps find the time to read Behenji ———-
Sitapati Posted: Thursday , May 07, 2009 at 2325 hrs IST
As the heat in
hits forty three degrees, the crowd waits patiently under a massive blue-white
cloth-tent. Women sit huddled on one side, men on the other, patrolled by
nervous policemen and uniformed cadre of the Bahujan Volunteer Force. Local
politicians lurk on the stage’s edge, allowing a clear view of the lone, empty
chair in the middle. No one wants to block the chair, even when empty, even by
mistake. An hour passes, then two. Suddenly those on stage go rigid, and those
in the audience get on their feet. Security guards rush on-stage, slowly
parting to reveal a cream silk-wearing diminutive lady waving mechanically at
the audience. And then, in rustic Hindi, she speaks of Constitutional
provisions and proprieties.
It’s a forum (and audience) as far as can be from the
air-conditioned sobriety of the Supreme Court, the central hall of Parliament,
or even the discussion room at the India International Centre. Yet, if you
closed your eyes and just listened, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
For BSP chief Mayawati launches into a lengthy exposition on the provisions of
the Indian Constitution, quotes clauses, articulates many of her demands
(arakshan, or reservations, being the leitmotif) in legal terminology, and
tells a lengthy tale on the Congress, Ambedkar and their roles in founding
independent India’s most vibrant document. Her audience of 6,000 — mainly Dalits
— listened in pin drop silence at
Ram Lila grounds on Sunday
Why does someone who’s made a career sneering at the elite
nature of Indian polity, repeatedly rely on the very document from which the
Indian state sources its legitimacy?
Part of the answer lies in the symbolism of B.R. Ambedkar,
chairman of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly. Mayawati’s
speech on Sunday was peppered with “Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar’s” role in
guaranteeing rights to “the weaker sections of society”. But the answer also
lies in Mayawati’s ability to interpret the Constitution to suit her political
strategy. Most legal commentators view individual rights as being the core of
the Constitution, group identities as mere political concessions. Mayawati subscribes
to the inverse idea — of the Constitution being a power-sharing agreement
This is not to say that Maya is right. It can equally be
argued that B.R. Ambedkar — and the rest of the Constituent Assembly — did not
consider the Constitution to be a mere power sharing arrangement. For instance,
article 330, which he helped draft, called for legislative reservations to
lapse after 10 years — something that Mayawati doesn’t account for. He also
helped draft the all-powerful article 14, whose emphasis on the equality of the
“person” seems an express rejection of Mayawati’s theory.
But viewed Behenji’s way, the Constitution’s many provisions
for Dalits (the phrase used is ‘Scheduled Caste’, technically different from
‘Dalit’, though colloquially interchangeable) are the product of a political
compromise, stemming from the Poona Pact of 1932. In return for renouncing
separate electorates and perhaps even a separate nation, Dalits enjoy group
rights including provisions that prevent discrimination, and those that provide
for affirmative action. Mayawati herself was studying to be an IAS officer (15
per cent of all IAS seats are reserved for Dalits) before she dashed the
ambitions of her father — Prabhu Das Dayal, himself a central government employee
— by joining Kanshi Ram in his ambition to capture political power.
Maya has also been able to use the Constitution for
electoral gain. The Constitution reserves legislative seats for Dalits; the BSP
began its rise to power by first contesting and winning reserved seats in UP.
The steady consolidation of dalit votes ( around 22 per cent in UP, on average)
meant that in a four-horse race where the finish line is short, BSP began to
win in other seats too. But even deeper, says Ajoy Bose, whose book on Mayawati
has set a benchmark in Indian political biography, is “the psychological use of
the Constitution and Ambedkar to provide a sense of history to the BSP
No other group has leveraged the Constitution the way Dalits
have. Tribals enjoy the exact same legal guarantees as dalits, but they are
neither as networked within government service nor as politically grouped
outside (name one tribal party or leader, barring the JMM’s Shibu Soren?). For
‘Other Backward Classes’, it was political mobilisation that came first;
constitutional changes/reservation s followed later. Ghosh points out that
“even within the Dalit community, Mayawati stands out in how much she defends
Under siege from the right (former RSS chief Sudarshan once
accused the Constitution of being “the root cause of most of the country’s
ills”), the extreme left (Naxalism), and regionalists (in
the North-East, and lest we forget, Bal Thackeray), the Constitution’s ability
to accommodate the intensity of Behenji’s ambition, and variance of
interpretation, says something for its elasticity.
Naxalite chief, CPI-Maoist General Secretary Ganapati, vows
to capture state power by planting the red flag on the red fort. Mayawati on the other hand, might well capture state
power by sticking with the tricolour atop the red fort, but by standing below
it on August 15th — and all without ever firing from the barrel of a gun.
In her autobiography, My Life of Struggle and the Path of the Bahujan Movement,
Mayawati praises the Constitution for empowering “weaker sections”, and
suggests its use as a tool to capture power. In between re-reading Chairman
Mao’s Little Red Book in the forests of Dandakaranya, Ganapati could perhaps
find the time to read Behenji.
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