India'sgreatest shortcoming, indeed its basic weakness, has been the caste system which largely prevented the country from acting as a unified force. It was this which contributed to India'sfailure to resist invaders from abroad. India has paid a grievous price for its casteist social structure. The Scheduled Castes, so-called and the Scheduled Tribes were always the target of first, Islamic and later, Christian missionaries. Such of those who resisted conversion received little help from upper caste fellow-citizens. Saints and savants pleaded in their behalf, but to little avail. For centuries the dalits remained marginalised.
One of the first to fight untouchability at the political level was Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. But he was ahead of his times. As much out of a sense of guilt as out of social and political compulsions, a free and independent India sought to bring the untouchables?or dalits?into mainstream activity, through reservations in schools and colleges. That, in turn, created an educated dalit class, full of anger and hatred against the upper castes. Economic betterment gave them the courage to speak out.
Among them was a young Sikh dalit called Kanshi Ram, who started life as a laboratory assistant in an ammunition factory in Kirkee, Maharashtra, but soon gave up his job and career to fight for dalit rights. During his intense sadhana, if one might so call it, he was to come across a studious if diffident, dalit school teacher called Mayawati whose original ambition, strongly supported by her parents (who were later to disown her) was to be an I.A.S. officer. It took only one long and passionate discussion with Kanshi Ram for Mayawati to succumb to his declared mission to fight for the downtrodden. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Kanshi Ram became her mentor and guide. His organised fight for dalit upliftment started on October 14, 1971 and by 1973 he had set up what was called the Backward and Minority Communities? Employees Federation (BAMCF). How it grew into a powerful organisation with a total membership of over 9,200,000, including 500 Ph.Ds, 15,000 scientists, 300 medical graduates and 7,000 graduate and post-graduate degree holders is a story in itself. Kansi Ram, however, was soon to realise that BAMCF was incapable of delivering his vision of a liberated people, which led him to establish a political party: the Bahujan Samaj.
Bitterly anti-brahmin?at public meetings Kanshi Ram would begin his speech by declaring that if there were any upper caste members in the audience, they better leave at once for their own safety?Kanshi Ram got into politics. He did poorly in elections in the early stages but, as the years passed, began to make visible progress.
In this brilliantly pieced-together narrative, Ajoy Bose recalls how the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati duo played one political opponent against another, how together they sewed together dalits, a whole range of backward castes and Muslims besides, to form a political combination that seemed unstoppable. Principles were thrown over board.
Hatred of upper castes whom Mayawati loosely dismissed as Manuwadis, was the order of the day, Mahatma Gandhi was briefly a target of dalit anger. Mayawati'sdiatribe against the Mahatma for describing dalits as Harijans?she hated the description?was to become the talk of the town following any meeting she addressed. To her, not the Mahatma, but Dr Ambedkar was the Great Liberator. Right from the day the Bahujan Samaj was formed, Mayawati indulged in dirty politics as to the manner born, with utter contempt for the leaders of the Samajwadi Party. Bose goes into great detail over how Mayawati bested her political rivals including Mulayam Singh and Kalyan Singh, how, step-by-step she rose to power, ultimately to be the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the second largest state in the country.
Bose recounts the phenomenal number of properties she has acquired, as also the acquisition of cash, clothing and jewellery for which she became rightly notorious. Coming from a large family which consisted of impoverished parents and seven siblings, Mayawati, in the course of her political career and specially after she became Chief Minister, had acquired seventy two houses and set up fifty four bank accounts. According to her own admission, her financial worth including moveable and immoveable assets jumped from Rs 160.7 million in 2004 to Rs 520 million in 2007. Bose says that ?the condemnation of Mayawati'svast wealth and lavish spending must be tempered with the recognition of the general absence of any kind of moral code in Indian politics when it comes to money?. A pathetic excuse for corruption.
As estimated one hundred million rupees were allegedly spent officially for celebrating her 47th birthday when she had become Chief Minister for the third time in 2003. And this is the woman who aspires to Prime Minister of India through the nation-wide support of dalits and other backward classes. One can only say: God save India.
Mayawati, reports her biographer, will continue to view her journey from poverty to affluence ?as a fairy tale and not a dirty story? as long as the rules of the political game remain the same. Some fairy tale, that! Bose also notes that throughout her career, Mayawati has been regarded as ?an unguided missile that has explosive content but no sense of direction??unless, one supposes, it is raising her bank balance. Unprincipled, reckless but scheming, she has been seeking the support of the upper castes, notably the brahmins who once she contemptuously dismissed as ?Manuwadis?, and they are apparently succumbing to her overtures because they see support to her as preferable?if unprincipled?way of staying close to power. It is to such a stage that Indian politics has been reduced.
A phonier explanation would be hard to come by Behenji?that'show she apparently loved to be called?is a major study of unprincipled and indefensible politics as currently practiced in Uttar Pradesh and which evidently she wants to replicate in other states as well. Mayawati has the right to fight her battles as she thinks fit. And what she thinks fit, seems from her past record to be unacceptable even to Chanakhya. All that we can do is to wait and see. But Bose deserves our thanks for writing this expose. He has done real service to the country.
(Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 0017.)