Mayawati and the death of a Dalit dream: Anointing family ‘heirs’ to Kanshi Ram’s BSP is last nail on his national mission

In the sultry heat of June 1995, the front row of the VIP gallery of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly was occupied by two illustrious political personalities — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Kanshi Ram. The star attraction that day was not Vajpayee but Kanshi Ram whose understudy, Mayawati, took the floor as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, a first for a Dalit woman.

On 3 June, 1995 she was appointed as the chief minister a day after she was attacked at the state guest house in Lucknow by goons of the Samajwadi Party as she pulled the rug from under Mulayam Singh Yadav’s feet. Mayawati was a novice to statecraft. From the gallery, Kanshi was fondly looking at the events which appeared like a “dream realised”. In fact it was his life’s mission to politically empower Dalits so much as to make them politically and socially self-reliant.

In the years preceding June 1995, Kanshi Ram toiled hard, cycled thousands of kilometres and engaged with political activists all across the country to make his dream come true. Mayawati’s appointment as the chief minister of the country’s most populous state appeared to be that moment. Like a true “revolutionary dreamer” he forsook his family in his formative years to raise the Dalit consciousness. He carefully chose Mayawati as inheritor of his political legacy.

Twenty-four years down the line, the great expectations that Kanshi Ram nurtured from his protégé Mayawati have turned out to be an illusion. On 23 June she held a closed door meeting of her party office bearers and appointed her nephew Akash Anand as BSP’s national coordinator — presumably the “heir” of her political legacy — and her brother Anand as national vice-president. In one felt stroke, she constricted Kanshi Ram’s national movement for Dalit consciousness to the confines of her family.

Used to seeing every regional satrap – and the Congress party at the national level — creating a political lineage to convert the capital of a political party into family property, it did not raise eyebrows.

 Mayawati and the death of a Dalit dream: Anointing family ‘heirs’ to Kanshi Ram’s BSP is last nail on his national mission

Mayawati and Kanshi Ram's statues in Uttar Pradesh. Reuters

But Mayawati will be grossly mistaken if she believes this will resurrect her flagging political career. In the absence of her astute mentor, she seems to have completely lost her way in maze of the snake-and-ladder politics of the state. She now looks like a far cry from the fiery young Dalit leader who disrupted UP’s – and indeed India’s – politics. She alarmed not only the Sangh Parivar but also Mulayam Singh Yadav and VP Singh who championed the cause of the OBCs. Soon after taking over, she held Periyar Mela to respect the memory of EV Ramaswamy Naicker (of Tamil Nadu) much to the chagrin of the Sangh Parivar. Periyar’s exposition on Ram and Sita was considered to be quite blasphemous and his work The Ramayana- a true reading was banned in the state. She pulled off this two day Mela in September 1995 in spite the BJP’s discomfiture, with whose support she became chief minister.

Periyar Mela was only a sequel to series of events that were organised by Mayawati to create a counter-culture to the Ayodhya movement which was at its peak after the demolition of the Babri mosque on 6 December, 1992. Under the guidance of Kanshi Ram, she also built a Dalit iconography by renaming public places after heroes like Eklavya, Chhatrapati Sahu Ji Maharaj, BR Ambedkar and discovered new Dalit icons to strengthen the Dalit discourse. Her moves consolidated her political position gradually so long as Kanshi Ram was alive. In her subsequent stints as the chief minister with the help of the BJP, she kept on consolidating her base by making the right moves of distributing land to landless and providing facilities in Dalit localities of villages.

In 2007 only a year after the death of Kanshi Ram, Mayawati emerged as a powerful leader in her own right following the overwhelming mandate she got from the electorate. She seemed to have transcended the caste-boundaries and was seen as anti-dote to lumpenised politics of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi party (SP). However her stint (2007-2012) turned out to be her worst political performance devoid of any political imagination and administrative acumen. She appeared to be under the stranglehold of a section of notoriously corrupt bureaucracy of UP that ran extortion rackets all over the state. With her party’s coffer filled to the brim, she genuinely believed in the “eternity” of her political charm. As a result she kept on losing a series of elections in 2012 (UP assembly), 2014 (Lok Sabha) and 2017 (state assembly).

Pushed to the wall, she made a clever bargain with the Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who had neither the guile nor the stature of his father Mulayam to dominate and dictate terms to Mayawati — to contest in alliance against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Though strategically she regained some ground, winning 10 Lok Sabha seats (up from zero), she seems to have realised the limitation of her role in future politics. With a large section of non-Jatav votes drifting towards the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mayawati’s base is now narrowed down to her core of Jatavs or Chamars, a base within a base. The nervous BJP of the first decade of the millennium is now the aggressor making 2007, when Mayawati raided the BJP bastion of Brahmins and other upper castes, a faint memory of the enormous possibilities of a Dalit assertion she then promised.

Mayawati has confounded this political adversity by further narrowing her base by appointing her brother and nephew as “heirs” to her political legacy. But it is quite unlikely that like other regional satraps such as Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lalu Prasad Yadav, she would be able to transfer her political capital to her family in a seamless manner.

On that summer day of June 1995 as Mayawati took charge as the chief minister, Kanshi Ram saw in her an admirable “heir” who would take forward his dream of prising open the oppressive caste social order. However, 24 years later, Mayawati looks like a clone of Ram Vilas Paswan, just another Dalit leader, who keeps on making Faustian bargains to stay relevant in politics. Nobody, least of all, Kanshi Ram, would have presaged such an untimely death of a dream.

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Updated Date: Jun 27, 2019 08:06:43 IST