What is your political background?
For the last 25 years, I have been involved in raising consciousness among Dalits, and the society in general, about atrocities and human rights violations on Dalits. The Constitution of India [ Images ] gives everyone the same rights. But everyday social practices seem immune to these constitutional guarantees. These practices range from a two-tumbler system in small teashops and restaurants to the way a Dalit girl is treated by the upper caste.
Politically, I was with the Marxist-Leninist stream, till I found it was not terribly bothered about the issue of caste. I left the group and started living and working in Saharanpur. For many years, I tried to organise people living in reserved forests. I also created a community of Dalit and Muslim youth in the wake of the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid [ Images ].
Later, I moved to Lucknow [ Images ]. In 1999, I founded the Dynamic Action Group, which established as its mandate five basic issues relating to the Dalit existence -- land for the Dalits; legal intervention and help in cases of murder, rape and caste atrocities on Dalits; monitoring government projects meant for Dalits such as the Dalit components of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Public Distribution System and health services; and untouchability among Dalits themselves.
There are many Dalit sub-castes. For example, the so-called ati-pichchre, for whom intermarriage is still prohibited. Our endeavour is: Okay, beti nahin to roti ka rishta hona chahiye.
Given your experience with organising the Dalits, how do you view Mayawati's chief ministership?
We can divide this into two broad phases -- the collaboration of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ], and the BSP on its own.
From a social viewpoint, in my lifetime, there have been a lot of changes in the way Dalits look at the society and the way the society looks at them. I remember a case in my village. When Panditji would walk through our basti, if we were sitting on the khaat, we would all scramble to our feet. But it was different after Mayawati became the chief minister. One day, when Panditji came to the basti, I kept sitting, while others got up. Panditji said aloud, "People who have gone out of the village to study have acquired a lot of airs." The elders apologised and said, "Yes, you are right. What can you do about these young people?"
But on my next visit to the village, I found even the elders would remain seated when Panditji passed by. This is the change Mayawati has wrought.
Now, what is needed is to rise above political gains and apply these changes in the social sphere. For this, the rest of the society has to change, but the Dalits have to change as well. So, there has to be unity at the social level. The Dalits have to seek new cultural idioms. Hinduism has rejected them, and they have turned to Buddhism. But Buddhism is a religion without teeth. For long-term changes, you need a new cultural intervention.
That danger is ever-present: Mayawati is making history. But for political gains, if she were to make mandirs, she would become a devi. The upper caste would, of course, be happy if she were to make mandirs. She would be assured of their everlasting support. But then, the cost would have to be paid by Dalits. If you carry on an analysis, in the first and second terms with the BJP, the hallmarks of Mayawati's chief ministership were harsh administration and law and order. Her popularity rose among Dalits, while the thakurs and others grumbled.
Let's talk about Mayawati since 2007...
In 2007, she came to power with a simple majority. The government of her predecessor, Mulayam Singh Yadav [ Images ], was not only anti-Dalit, it also had an anti-Brahmin tone. His weakness for Kalyan Singh [ Images ] antagonised the minorities. It was against this background that Behenji's call for a 'sarvajan samaj' and slogans such as "Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu [ Images ], Mahesh hai" led to the downtrodden of all castes rallying to her support. The 'sarvajan' formula and the anger against Mulayam gave Behenji a clear majority.
When BSP member of Parliament from Azamgarh, Ramakant Yadav, got a poor Muslim's house bulldozed to capture his land, Mayawati called him to her residence on the pretext of a meeting and had him arrested. Steps such as these were aimed at sending a message: that no one, whether from the ruling party or the Opposition, was above the law. She even dismissed her food and civil supplies minister Anand Sen after he was named an accused in a case relating to a woman's abduction.
Till now, she has expelled 26 leaders, including ministers from her party, and cancelled the appointment of 17,868 policemen who were recruited by the previous government in a process characterised by large-scale corruption. A total of 25 Indian Police Services officers were also suspended in this case.
Behenji's unprecedented majority in 2007 deepened her political ambitions manifold, and the prime minister's chair suddenly appeared within reach. While her new political ambitions resulted in her coming across as a strong leader who took steps to improve the law and order situation, it also led her to tinker with the SC/ST Act [Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act]. The SC/ST Act is a central law, and the state government can't change its provisions.
However, as soon as she took over in 2007, Behenji passed a government order that sought to alter a key enabling provision of the law. According to the UP government's order, in case atrocities against Dalits were reported, the police should not register an FIR immediately, as was stipulated by law, but first inquire about the complaint. The police could only proceed when if it was a prima facie case. This government directive was against the very spirit of the SC/ST Act.
This resulted in a spurt of atrocities against Dalits in the state. The consequence was that the community would choose to compromise rather than complain, owing to a fear that if registering cases of atrocities against Dalits angered the 'sarvajan samaj', it would be a setback for the 'make Behenji Prime Minister' project.
What happened in 2009?
In the 2009 parliamentary elections, Behenji set her party a target of 60 seats of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh [ Images ]. Also, on the advice of her political advisors, she put her goal of enforcing the rule of law in UP on the back burner. Instead, she nominated 24 mafia bosses and criminal elements from the BSP. People like Mukhtar Ansari, Afzaal Ansari, Dhananjay Singh, D P Yadav and Anna Bhaiya were on the list. A total of 21 of the tainted 24 lost the elections and Behenji had to rest content with just 20 seats. The Dalits were so indifferent that in spite of repeated appeals by her, they refused to come out and vote. Her prime ministerial dreams receded into the background.
If she gets another term, this has to be corrected. Unless there is bhaichara at the social level, the 'caste unity from above' will not work. She needs at least one more term for this.
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