Monday, 29 March 2010

Out Of Proportion
Dileep Padgaonkar, Mar 24, 2010, 12.00am IST
Political correctness has now reached such depths of degeneration in our liberal opinion that we no longer dare to call a spade a spade, let alone a bloody shovel. A recent example is the criticism of Mayawati for flaunting her diamonds and garlands of currency notes at BSP rallies. It took little or no account of her dogged belief that as a Dalit she is entitled to exercise that privilege.

This belief, her apologists argue, explains, indeed justifies, her utter indifference to what the 'elites' in the media and the rest of the political establishment think about such outrageous displays of wealth. The thought that she might have accumulated it through illegitimate means does not make them lose their sleep either. After centuries of oppression, runs their dirge, the trespasses of Dalits need to be overlooked.

Some apologists go further than that. Mayawati's most lethal weapon, they claim, is her candour. Unlike other leaders in our public life, she makes no bones about her greed for money and lust for power. She does things in broad daylight what others do only after dusk. And she says aloud what others mutter beneath their breath. She might be guilty of this or the other misdemeanour. But no one can accuse her of double-speak and double-think.

Arguments of this nature are flawed on two counts. They are patronising at best and, at worst, rooted in mawkish cynicism. To say that Mayawati's 'core constituency' isn't bothered about its leader's shenanigans is to suggest that the Dalits are bereft of a moral sense. Such a view is offensive in the extreme. The main reason why bahujan samaj leaders of the past Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj, Ramaswamy Naickerand, B R Ambedkar are revered by all sections of society today is precisely because their comportment, in private as in public, was above reproach. Even while they berated the upper castes for their deep-seated prejudices against those at the bottom of the social pecking order, they drew their strength from universally accepted notions of equality and justice.

Not once did they suggest, late alone assert, that as victims of caste oppression for several millennia, Dalits should be permitted to observe a lax moral regimen. What is good for the Brahmin must be good for the Dalit. They would have been appalled to hear that Mayawati's greed must be condoned because of her community's sense of victimhood.

Nor would they have shared Mayawati's antipathy for the 'elites'. In their own time, they were at the receiving end of Brahmins who held sway in public life, including the press. But they fought the critics armed with knowledge and reason and, above all, with a heightened sense of moral purpose. Ambedkar's critique of Gandhism was often acerbic. What lent it levity was his closely argued stand that the Mahatma chose not to attack the roots of social evils in the country: the varna system.

Our political establishment has strayed far away from this path. But the one who takes the cake for vagrancy is Mayawati. Her only service to her icon is the erection of his kitschy statues across the length and breadth of Uttar Pradesh along with those of her mentor Kanshi Ram. She has cast herself in stone as well. To claim, as her apologists do, that her Dalit flock applauds this megalomania is to have a poor opinion of their intelligence.

Moreover, to hail Mayawati for her candour is to forgive the sins of every demagogue in the land. The Thackerays, too, are candid. And so are Narendra Modi, Praveen Togadia and an assortment of maulvis. All of them nurse a sense of victimhood. All see conspiracies assailing them from all sides. All indulge in venomous rhetoric. And all manage to hoodwink their 'core constituency' again and again.

Yet this 'core constituency' is not frozen in time. It yearns for security, education, jobs and speedy justice. Sooner than later it has to repudiate the demagogues who are tall on promise and short on delivery. To assume that they will tolerate the megalomania of their leaders for all times to come is to hold them in contempt. Mayawati only succeeds in strengthening the vilest upper-caste prejudices about the parvenu Dalit.

The pity of it all is that her provocative speeches and gestures take attention away from her genuine leadership qualities. The former prime minister, P V Narasimha Rao, had once described her as a 'miracle of democracy'. Her grit and perseverance have enabled her to brave the heaviest of odds in our caste-ridden and male-centred polity. Time and again she has outwitted her political foes with her shrewd understanding of social forces. Few politicians in the country can match her talents for social engineering.

By embarking on a confrontationist path, she may well succeed in consolidating her support base among Dalits. At the same time, however, she is bound to alienate other sections of society. Her talents at social engineering would then come under intolerable strain. At present she is caught in a cleft-stick. She needs to revisit Ambedkar's teachings. He will have a thing or two to tell her about what it takes to prevail.
Courtesy: Times of India

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