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Dalit muscle power in UP: Mayawati-Bahuguna clash July 23, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Ganguly, Debjani, India , trackback

Debjani Ganguly

Mayawati’s triumph as the most powerful dalit leader in the country has come under a cloud with her recent misuse of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) 1989 Act (SC and ST Act) against UP Congress Committee Chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi. It is not a pleasant story.

On 15 July, Bahuguna Joshi taunted Mayawati for the paltry sum paid as compensation to dalit rape victims. “What is Rupees 25,000”, she asked, “when the state police chief was spending lakhs on the helicopter rides [he undertook to hand over that sum to the victims]?” Her shrill rhetoric took an unfortunate turn when she went on to claim that if Mayawati were a rape victim under a Congress government, she would be paid Rupees one crore.

The Bahajun Samaj Party (BSP) retaliation to this slur on their leader was swift and brutal. Rita Bahuguna Joshi was arrested for her incendiary language against a revered dalit figure under the SC & ST Act and will spend 14 days in judicial custody under a non-bailable charge. Her house in the high security zone close to the UP Secretariat was ransacked by BSP workers and part of it torched.

Mayawati denied that the BSP had anything to do with the arson, and transferred the blame to the Congress. She defended her government’s action against the Congress leader, claiming that the amount of compensation was actually determined during the reign of the Congress in UP, and that the Congress should take full responsibility for Bahuguna Joshi’s “objectionable, reprehensible and highly condemnable” personal attack.

The BSP is bent on making political capital by treating this incident as yet another upper caste denigration of the dalits and pressuring Sonia Gandhi to apologise to Mayawati, the BSP and India’s dalits in Parliament. This, despite Sonia Gandhi’s public expression of regret at her party member’s thoughtless remarks.

Other opposition groups, such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party are not far behind in their political opportunism. Both have demanded the resignation of Mayawati on grounds of her willful misuse of state power and the general breakdown of law and order in the state.

Meanwhile, observers and sympathisers of the dalit cause among political activists, writers and academics such as myself are left to ponder despondently on the gap between the ideal of dalit amelioration and the messiness of dalit politics. Despite our dismay at Mayawati’s illiberal style of politics – self-aggrandisement, cult-making and hooliganism –  can we turn away from the fact that every day two dalits are murdered, three dalit women are raped, two dalit houses are destroyed and eleven dalits are beaten up? And these are modest estimates of the National Bureau of Crime. Can we ignore the increasing impoverishment of rural dalits under the impact of globalisation? Can we ignore the symptomatic truth of the brutal massacre of Surekha Bhotmange and her children in Khairlanji in 2006? [Two female family members were raped and killed and two male members killed in the village near Nagpur, Maharashtra.  The family were Buddhist dalits of the same group as Dr Ambedkar – Ed].


1. anup - July 23, 2009

This is a good recap of the Joshi-Mayawati clash.

However, a bit of a background may put this clash in context. The Congress Party, after having won more than expected number of seats in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, is seen as the latest threat by Mayawati; especially with the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi leading the charge. So, it is no surprise that Mayawati reacted the way she did to consolidate her standing among the Dalits; after all, this is vote-bank politics. This is a brand of political opportunism that the Congress party has perfected and encouraged the other political parties to follow. Hence, it is not fair to condemn Mayawati’s “illiberal style of politics”.

An interesting perspective to this event is given by Sandhya Jain writing in The Pioneeer and it is heartening to see this event in that context. Mayawati does not brook any tolerance when it comes to insults aimed at the Dalit community. Contrast that with the racism prevalent in a liberal democracy such as the US as evidenced by the recent comments on the ‘Free Republic’ website and it should be clear what exactly is Mayawati’s contribution by way of her “illiberal style of politics”.

On an another point, it is worth noting the second class citizenship to African Americans by way of their non automatic right to vote and compare that to the privileges enjoyed by the Dalits in India to see the success of the Dalit movement.

2. anup - July 23, 2009

Link to The Free Republic incident


Sorry, posted the wrong link earlier

3. anup - July 23, 2009

Link to Sandhya Jain’s article