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Monday , January 23, 2012 at 12 : 53

Longing for Kanshiram


It's election time in Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati is trying hard to get back to power. However, whenever I think of Maya, my thoughts go to Kanshiram, the man who founded Bahujan Samaj Party and more than that, dreamt of an India where Dalits could also run governments and rule. Not that Kanshiram was the first to nurture that dream, but he was undoubtedly the first to realise it.

Kanshiram was originally from Punjab. He started his Dalit movement from that state. The first of BSP MPs also came from the same state. But Kanshiram always had Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra - and above all, UP - on his radar. The irony is that the BSP today has hardly any presence in Punjab.

I met Kanshiram several times and also had been with him a few times during his various election campaigns. He was a thinker first, but also had a deep understanding of Indian electoral politics. He knew how to exploit a good opportunity. He often said he loved instability and it was for this reason that some people even called him a political opportunist.

But he used to say that the more unstable the mainstream polity gets, the more his party, the BSP, would gain. He was not allergic to any particular party. He also believed in the futility of the debate over communalism and secularism, a debate that was raging across India when the BSP was coming up. The first ever BSP government in UP was formed with the help of the BJP.

Mayawati, in those days, was her loyal lieutenant and successor.

There were sceptics who believed that the Dalit movement, started by BSP, would disintegrate and fizzle out after Kanshiram. That the political monsters would not let Mayawati take the baton from her mentor. However, the fighter that Maya is, she not only presided over a massive mandate, but even completed a successful five-year term.

Mayawati deviated from Kanshiram in two important areas. One, she strengthened the BSP and converted it into an election machine. Dalits voted en masse for BSP even during Kanshiram's days, but that was more a vote of protest than a tactical political decision. Mayawati's genius lay in her turning this protest into an organised political tool by linking Dalit pride with electoral success . Defeat in elections, she said, would equal a defeat in caste struggle.

Two, Kanshiram had channelized Dalit anger towards the upper caste Hindus to build his movement. His slogan was: 'tilak, taraazu aur talwaar, inko maaro joote chaar'. Maya changed this rhetoric and coined the term 'sarvajan' (masses) instead of 'bahujan' (Dalits). We saw the first manifestation of this change in the 2007 Assembly elections in UP. Nobody had until then imagined that the Brahmins would accept the leadership of a Dalit. Congress had the inverse caste logic where Brahmins ruled and the Dalits followed. Mayawati's another genius lay in the overturning of this discourse by making the Brahmins realise the value of Dalit leadership, even for their own gains. The magic formula of a clear majority in the House was ready.

But Mayawati's politics had its drawbacks too. One, she was convinced that power is temporary and the opportunity to become the Chief Minister of India's largest state is not a permanent one. In changing Mulayam's 'multi-window' system to a 'single-window clearance' system, Mayawati encouraged massive corruption. The accusations started pouring in, so much so that it blunted her otherwise good work done in restoring law and order in the state. Even the massive parks she built in the name of Dalit pride became suspect sites of corruption.

Two, Mayawati ignored the Dalit movement in her lust for power. She fell apart with most of her Dalit comrades. Today, there is hardly any prominent leader in BSP who had started the movement with Kanshiram. They either left or were forced to quit. Kanshiram's democracy within the party was replaced by Maya's high-handedness. Kanshiram's illness made it worse. The movement, which for Kanshi was a pan-India movement, was confined to UP by Mayawati at the peril of larger Dalit politics. Maya has hardly stepped out of UP to carry forward Kanshi's legacy across India. Instead of being the leader of a movement, she became the President of a party and the CM of a state.

Three, Kanshiram had appointed Mayawati as his successor during his lifetime, a decision that angered many of his compatriots in the Dalit movement. But Kanshiram believed in his mentee. He was never insecure about his position. Mayawati, suffers from a great sense of insecurity throughout her career and more so once she assumed power. That explains why the BSP has no other public face other than the Behanji. This attitude raises doubts over the continuance of the movement post-Mayawati.

Whatever be the outcome of the 2012 UP elections, Maya wins or loses - it can never be regarded as the victory or defeat of the Dalit consciousness. Unfortunately Mayawati has turned into just another politician in UP, and BSP today is just another party like the Congress or the BJP. The character and the face of the movement is gone. In such a scenario, there is nobody to lament the absence of Kanshiram or worry about the direction of the Dalit movement.


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More about Ashutosh

Ashutosh, one of the best known faces in TV journalism today, is the Managing Editor of IBN7.