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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2426

Foot in the mouth syndrome of politicians flares up as war to woo Dalits intensifies

From R.C. Rajamani, Editorial Consultant, Asiantribune.com

[caption id="attachment_2637" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Mayawathi installing statues largely of herself and her political mentor Kanshi Ram"]Mayawathi  installing statues largely of herself and her political mentor Kanshi Ram[/caption]

It seems Indian politicians will never learn from past experience. Afflicted with the “foot in the mouth” syndrome, they get into needless trouble time and time again. The latest culprit and also the victim is Congress leader from India’s worst caste-ridden state of Uttar Pradesh, Ms. Rita Bahuguna Joshi. President of the state unit of the Congress party, she retains her original surname Bahuguna even after marriage because her father HN Bahuguna was better known and had been the chief minister of the state. Once a close confidant of the late Indira Gandhi, he later fell out with her and even moved a no confidence motion against her government in Delhi in the early 1980’s. Retaining the original surname is a clever practice of some politicians, film stars and journalists in India who would not like to shed the more famous previous surnames for obvious reasons.

Rita Bahuguna put her foot in the mouth to malign Ms Mayawati, a powerful Dalit (depressed class) politician and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The disease has left Rita cooling her heels in jail. Mayawati, who is being advised by a Brahmin (the highest in the caste ladder) Satish Mishra, chose to use the law which seeks to prevent atrocities on the people belonging to the Dalit community. The legal opinion is divided on the propriety of using this law. Mayawati has sought to make Rita’s remarks against her as an attack on the entire Dalit class.

Speaking at a function in the city of Moradabad, not far from Delhi, Rita Bahuguna mocked at Mayawati government’s “measly” monetary relief to the rape victims of women from Dalit community. In a thoughtless and dramatic spurt, she is reported have asked the rape victims to throw the money on Mayawati’s face. If she had stopped at that no harm may have come her way. Now, clearly putting her foot in the mouth, Rita Bahuguna reportedly remarked that should Mayawait become a rape victim herself, let rupees ten million be paid to her. She made the allegedly derogatory and sexist utterances while mocking at the state government for spending lakhs of rupees to fly its director-general of police in a helicopter to disburse Rs.25, 000 compensation to rape victims.

She had later retracted her statement and claimed that she was quoted out of context by the media. Mayawait is in no mood to accept Rita’s apology. Rita was arrested Wednesday night under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Her home in Lucknow was set on fire, though Mayawati has denied BSP activists were involved.

In the cut throat caste politics of Uttar Pradesh, politicians are extremely prone to exploit the caste issue mindless of the harm it is bound to cause to peace in society. “Behind Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s sickening remarks against chief minister Mayawati and the latter blaming Congress leaders’ bias against Dalits, lies a narrative of a politically vulgar culture and the emerging bitter battle between the Congress and the BSP in the state. UP’s political culture is rife with the sort of sexist attitudes that generate such remarks as made by Joshi,” wrote the Economic Times.

Mayawati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) did not do as well as widely expected in the April-May parliamentary elections, would naturally like to exploit the incident to polarize Dalits not only in Uttar Pradesh but in the rest of India. She had even nursed open prime ministerial ambitions. “If I can become chief minister of the largest state in the country, nothing can stop me from becoming the prime minister of India,” she had boasted before the polls If she had got some 40 odd seats in what was expected to be a hung parliament, there were enough politicians who would have tried to make her the prime minister of a coalition government. This did not happen and the Congress, getting more than 200 seats in the 543-member house, easily mustered up the requisite majority with the help of allies. If Maywati was mortified, the Congress grew over ambitious, taking more than 20 seats from Maywati’s home state. The media credited this to the charisma of Rahul Gandhi, who toured the state in a tireless election campaign. The state unit of the Congress party also got due credit. This has obviously spurred Rita Bahuguna to turn more aggressive in wooing the Dalits back to the Congress which has lost them to various other socialist parties over the years. Dalits voted in bloc to the Congress during the days of Pandit Nehru and later his daughter Indira Gandhi. This is no more the case. The return of Dalits the party in the recent elections has obviously encouraged the Congress leadership in Delhi as well.

Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi has taken the battle directly to Mayawati’s citadel. He has said that the Congress party would intensify its efforts to bring succour to the poor across the caste/community spectrum, be they Dalits or Brahmins, Muslims or others. At the same time, he has not taken kindly to Rita Bahuguna for her remarks, terming them as “unfortunate and wrong".

"We will now work aggressively for the poor; we will work for their rights across Uttar Pradesh. The poor in every district of the state will come to know that it's the Congress that stands for them," Rahul said in his parliamentary constituency Amethi, also in Uttar Pradesh. "We are not concerned about police action against us. We will work for the poor and you will see it, I want to make this clear."

Though he disapproved of Rita Bhauguna’s remarks against Mayawati, he strongly defended her for the spirit behind her statement. "I can understand the anger in dealing with the Uttar Pradesh government that is not operational in the state. The words are wrong, but not the sentiment. The words used by Joshi were unfortunate. The Congress president and the party have made it clear that we don't appreciate the words.” He also criticised Mayawati for installing her statues and setting up memorials to herself in the state at the cost of public money meant for development of the state.

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers in Delhi have urged the Election Commission to freeze the election symbol of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and disqualify its chief Mayawati from contesting elections for violation of the model of code of conduct by installing her statues in Lucknow."The installation of statues could influence the voters and this is clearly the violation of the model code of conduct," they said. One of them had filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court against Mayawati, accusing her of wasting public money by installing statues largely of herself and her political mentor Kanshi Ram. But the court had rejected the demand that Mayawati be restrained in her spree of erecting statues. It said it could not intervene unless there were charges of corruption. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam said since the decision to raise the statues was taken by the state cabinet, it would not intervene in the matter.

Popular writer-columnist, 95-year old Kushwant Singh has also slammed Mayawati for her extravagance. “Erecting one’s own statues is nothing less than self-worship of the most vulgar form. It never occurred to her that each one of these statues and the innumerable elephants in black stone could have given the poor a hundred village schools and clinics.”

Clearly, battle lines are drawn for the upcoming elections to some states like Maharashtra. The parties, already determined to play the Dalit card, will find justification in playing up the issue after the recent incident.

- Asian Tribune -

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