Tactical attempt to end caste-virus : BSP leadership

22Jul08

“We cannot fight just as Dalits,” was a message she repeated. “I understand for centuries people have fought each other. It is not easy to bring them together. But we have done this in U.P.”

Pic01:Posters of Kumari Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, are for sale in a market in Lucknow. Ms. Mayawati is from a low-caste family

 

Affectionately referred to as Behenji, which is a respectful way to address a sister, Ms. Mayawati was born into a community once relegated to leather work and, according to Hinduism’s ritual purity code, forbidden to share tea cups or water wells with upper-caste people.The daughter of a government worker in Delhi, she became a schoolteacher, earned a law degree and then devoted herself full time to what was then a fledgling party.Her greatest innovation has been to lift a page from the Congress Party’s playbook, and flip it. She has gone after Congress’s traditional constituents — Dalits, socially privileged Brahmins and Muslims — but while a Brahmin has often led the others under the Congress Party, she insists on being the low-born leader at the helm. Ms. Mayawati has lately sharpened her attacks on Congress Party leaders. As Rahul Gandhi, scion of the upper-caste Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, went on a widely publicized tour of the Uttar Pradesh countryside, eating and sleeping in low-caste homes, Ms. Mayawati baldly accused him of having to purify himself afterward with a “special soap.”

Ms. Mayawati’s governing of Uttar Pradesh has been characterized by supersize acts of political symbolism. She has ordered the arrests of notorious organized crime bosses, along with a handful of known criminals in her own party, and in so doing, sought to send a message that the police would be free to do their job. She is famous for lording over civil servants in her state and transferring them at the drop of a hat. She has put up giant statues of Dalit icons, including herself, in the heart of this capital. Her big-ticket plank today is a nearly 600-mile, $7.5 billion highway stretching across the state and promising to sprout several private townships along the way. It is financed with private money, and observers of Uttar Pradesh politics say it could become an inviting source of graft. Corruption is in fact the most serious criticism against Ms. Mayawati. The latest accusations surfaced this month in selected leaks to the news media. The Central Bureau of Investigation, the nation’s highest law enforcement agency, accused Ms. Mayawati and her relatives of having illegally accumulated $2.4 million in property, including a villa in the elite diplomatic enclave of New Delhi, and $1.2 million in bank accounts. Ms. Mayawati promptly denounced the charges as politically motivated.Among her Dalit loyalists, Ms. Mayawati is sometimes called “a goddess.” In interviews across the state, many readily said they felt proud that a Dalit’s daughter was governing the state. They also said her ascent had emboldened them to report crimes or seek benefits from the state.

In Agrona village, on the western edge of the state, Rakesh Kumar, 34, a factory worker who belongs to one of the lowest castes, offered his own example. For years, his family had tried to retrieve a small patch of land, about 170 square yards, that had been occupied by middle-caste villagers called Gujjars. Every time the Kumars went to the local authorities for redress, they got a runaround. Then, last summer, shortly after Ms. Mayawati took office, Mr. Kumar, with the aid of a local worker from the Bahujan Samaj Party, tried once more. “Behenji became chief minister,” he said. “That’s what gave me strength.” This time, the officials responded. They warned the Gujjars and threatened to call the police if they did not vacate the Kumars’ land. After 12 years of trying, Mr. Kumar put a fence around his land. He plans to build a house there. (A Gujjar leader in the village confirmed the story.) “The chief minister is our own kind,” marveled Rajpal, who said that he was around 50 and that he was a sweeper by caste. “Now we are not afraid of the police. We are not afraid of the Gujjars. We are not afraid of anyone.”

 

Source: NYTimes



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