by Anirudha Dutta
Earlier this year, I was in a village in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh witnessing one of the group meetings of a micro-finance institution (MFI). After the meeting I spoke to a woman in one of the groups and asked her who she would vote for if elections were to be held soon. I was half expecting the old woman to say YSR, the former chief minister who had died last year and was the architect of many pro-poor and pro-women schemes. I was stunned when she said, “Indira amma”. Yes, I did hear her correctly. The old woman still ‘voted’ for Indira amma, who had died in 1984. The Gandhi family magic at work.
I have since wondered what gives the "first family" of India such an enduring hold over the imagination of a large cross-section of the Indian population. My eureka moment came about a month back, when I was in New Delhi. As I was criss-crossing the city, I saw a large number of tourist buses parked in front of various tourist attractions --- most of them memorials to various members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. So, for 365 days a year, tourists from far and wide come to the capital city, and apart from seeing historical monuments, the only must-visits are the odes to various members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Is it surprising, then, that the family is held in such high esteem by millions across the country?
The family realizes it; that is why no leader other than one with the Gandhi surname is allowed such monuments and shrines in the capital city. We do not see such monuments, roads, parks, or airports named after P V Narasimha Rao. The poor guy – who, along with Vajpayee, was, arguably the best Prime Minister India has ever had - did not even get a burial in the capital city of the country, let alone a memorial.
But there is one person who has grasped this truth and is not willing to play by the dynasty rules - Mayawati. She is ensuring that her legacy will endure in the Dalit pantheon, alongside Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and others. This is why she has built innumerable parks honouring various Dalit leaders, including herself. I heard a Dalit woman on one of the news channels say that each time she takes her children to this park, they will feel proud that their leaders have come of age; that they are now able to build such monuments dedicated to Dalits. While the glitterati and the chatteratti may not like Mayawati's brazen ode to herself and her seeming lack of taste and aesthetics, Dalits support her, saying they need such symbols in a country where there are monuments honouring everyone except them. Mayawati understands this psyche.
Mayawati knows exactly what she is doing, although it may cause resentment, mirth, and dismay among the rich, and in the English news media.
The parks give Dalits a sense of pride, and motivate them and spur them. There’s nothing wrong in building parks – they’ve been part and parcel of Indian politics. There will now be some respite from the Nehru- Gandhi family parks, museums and statues we have been inundated with as a nation.
I do wish that Mayawati was also building schools, universities, vocational training institutes, hospitals and factories. But politically it is not the same thing; tourists and visitors will not go there to gawk at them, feel a sense of reverence or gain a sense of identity because of them.
Hopefully those will come in the next five years.
Anirudha Dutta is a financial analyst with a global investment bank and based in Mumbai. He loves to write on a variety of subjects and hopes to get his clients engaged in them, even though some of the topics would be at a reasonable distance from the stock markets. Like all good bongs he loves his phish and phoochka, but unlike them he is not passionate about phootball.