Saturday, April 12, 2008

Maya and Reality

Byline by M J Akbar : Maya and Reality

Sonia Gandhi has been completely unable to stem the Mayawati tide, being swamped in Uttar Pradesh and driven out by parallel currents in states like Gujarat. She has now thrown Rahul Gandhi into this churn. His visit to a Dalit home on Mayawati's base was a direct challenge. This by itself is unexceptional. But after over four years of power, and single-point leadership, the Congress can no longer distinguish between an adversary and an enemy.

The good news for the Sonia Gandhi Congress is that Rahul Gandhi is finally beginning to irritate someone. The bad news is that he has irritated Mayawati, the increasingly iconic leader of India's Dalits.

Mayawati has achieved something unprecedented in the Dalit experience. She has come to power on her own terms. Her mentor, Kanshi Ram, indisputably paved the way, but in historical terms, he was only the herald of this extraordinary seismic shift in the demographics of Indian politics. Someone still had to deliver on the prophecy. Mayawati has both outpaced her mentor and risen to a higher trajectory: to push the metaphor, she has travelled both horizontally and vertically on the same momentum, which is quite unique political yoga. To claim power is a dream. To achieve it is to rewrite history. And to do so on your own terms is a glittering embellishment to an already impressive chapter.

The clash between Congress and Mayawati was perhaps inevitable, since both claim the same electoral turf. Sonia Gandhi has been completely unable to stem the Mayawati tide, being swamped in Uttar Pradesh and driven out by parallel currents in states like Gujarat. She has now thrown Rahul Gandhi into this churn. His visit to a Dalit home on Mayawati's base was a direct challenge. This by itself is unexceptional. But after over four years of power, and single-point leadership, the Congress can no longer distinguish between an adversary and an enemy. It has created a sub-culture of us-versus-them, and secret hit lists, giving a bitter edge to the normal tensions of political life. One can see the vapour rising in language, and the rancour rising in body language.

Rahul Gandhi has begun the Congress campaign for the next general election, and opted for a personal variation of what might be called the Indira Gandhi model. This was best exemplified by a decision Mrs Gandhi made during the bleak years of Janata Party rule, after the end of the Emergency in 1977 and the defeat of the Congress in that year's election. An incident took place in a remote village in Bihar, where Dalits were victims of upper caste hostility and violence. Mrs Gandhi decided to go there, and when no other means of transport was available for the last mile, she got on to an elephant. That gesture was the alchemy that transformed the fortunes of a depressed and divided Congress. A second incident, during which she squatted down and offered arrest when the Janata began to pursue her with expected, but unacceptable, animosity, offered an equally dramatic image to photographers. This is the parallel that Rahul Gandhi seeks to draw when he turns up "unexpectedly" in tribal homes in Orissa, or a Dalit village in Uttar Pradesh; or when Mrs Sonia Gandhi gallantly offers to send her son and heir to jail for a day or two to prove his heroic credentials in the struggle against Mayawati. But there are significant differences between 1978 and 2008.

To begin with, in 1978, Indira Gandhi was the only leader and Congress the only party that identified itself with the Dalit cause. The Janata government was a coalition of middle and upper caste power-brokers that paid occasional lip service to the Dalits, but not much more. The Janata lost a glorious opportunity to shift the demographic and political equations of the country when it refused to make the pre-eminent Dalit leader of the time, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Prime Minister after the elections and chose the anaemic Morarji Desai instead.

In 2008, Mayawati is the lodestar of the Dalits, the Indira Gandhi of her community. Nor is she a Brahmin with sympathy for the downtrodden; she is a Dalit herself, part of the poverty and the humiliation of thousands of years, with a ferocious sense of identity with her people. Jagjivan Ram sought change through conciliation; Mayawati seeks change through confrontation. Dalits feel empowered now; they felt helpless when Indira Gandhi was on her way to Bihar. 1978 was the season of bitter fruit; 2008 is the season of long-denied apples.

Mayawati's response to Rahul Gandhi's politicking is an indication of the new ferocity. Rahul Gandhi wants votes for himself; Mayawati wants a new horizon for herself and her community. When she invoked the images of soap and incense, and charged that the likes of Rahul Gandhi privately purified themselves after publicly associating with Dalits, she was arousing passions around the two great crimes against Dalits, poverty and untouchability. She was also hinting at a third crime, a modern one, induced by democracy — of hypocrisy. This was not a speech put together by some extra-clever boys around a computer; she etched those images into the speech herself. By throwing "foreign" into the mix, she raised the ante to the foreign origins of Sonia Gandhi and the international lifestyle of Rahul Gandhi. Mayawati's message was carried by television and print across India.

The genteel might not consider Mayawati very gentle but the genteel are heavily outnumbered in Indian democracy. A friend watched this speech in his office, in the company of his colleagues. When an executive expressed his disapproval, a bearer said simply, "This is what has made Mayawati chief minister, and this is what will make her Prime Minister".

I would change "will" to "could" but otherwise the statement stands on merit.

What the Congress leadership does not understand is that dynasty cannot offer itself as an alternative to a genuine mass leader. The old Congress won the sympathy of Dalits because it encouraged Dalit leaders to rise in the party; today, only the dynasty has the right to represent every community in the country. Doesn't work in a maturing democracy.

The 5 April issue of the Economist makes the perceptive point that democracy does not necessarily throw up clean results: "...of 21 countries which have elected new governments in the past four months, the result of the vote itself was less than decisive in at least six. The number seems to be rising".

This pattern came into play in India after 1989, when Vishwanath Pratap Singh formed a minority government after an indecisive result. There has been no majority government in 18 years through five general elections. Government are now formed by post-poll rather than pre-poll alliances. The need for a stable government, or perhaps any government at all, trumps other differences. Numbers determine the level of power a leader exercises within a coalition. In Germany, Angela Merkel became Chancellor at the head of a grand coalition between long-standing adversaries because she got one seat more than her opponents. The power of one has rarely been higher. Such a syndrome in India opens the field for Mayawati, as well as others.

The Congress is desperately hoping that Mayawati fails, or collapses. Its wish has some probability on its side. Against such a probability, Mayawati is bolstered by a possibility.

Mayawati is not the pretty or handsome heir of a stagnant dynasty. She is monarch of a kingdom she has won on the field of battle. She believes that her kingdom can expand into an empire. This may happen; it may not. But remember this: a democracy encourages flexible, fluid boundaries. Some things are probable, but everything is possible.

This Maya is no illusion.


Anand said...

As usual, one of the best written on Mayawati. Whatever her critiques say about her, she is one true representative of Merit. However, you are a bit more critical on Rahul Gandhi. To be fair, I think Rahul is trying to come of age; its not very simple for a boy born with golden spoon and all luxuries, to sleep at poor Dalits house. Also he has choosen to stay away from Cabinet to build the party. That he is doing all he can reflects his maturity in not taking the voters for granted. Offcourse, India needs more Mayawaties, who fight and win than Rahul Gandhies, who start the race with pole position, the pole being miles ahead of others.

}{^ HimaLayaN--SwaStikA ^}{ said...


A really good analysis. I too have the same view that MayawatiJi wont let Congress sleep peacefully as both of them have same people to address. Congress had it chance for 50 years with dalits and it did nothing for them. Mayawatiji on other hand gave that self confidence back to community.

I dont understand congress and hold it responsible for majority of the problems in India. I wonder why at 40 years of age someone like Rahul Gandhi needs to discover India, even though he is a born Indian?

I dont understand why Sonia shunted out Priyanka Gandhi from congress politics as soon as Rahul showed interest? If it was done by some other person in India than there would have been so many cries in media, ranging from gender equality to woman empowerment.

Rahul rejected ministerial berth because it was too early for the crowned prince to let his failures out in public before coming general election.

MayawatiJi cant be prime minister on her own as she has sought support of brahmins now. This will be a trouble for communists as she wont allow them a free run in HRD. Her best chances are with BJP. I see that possibility as Mulayam and Sonia are burrying their difference for the time being. OBCs in majority wont go for MayawatiJi so her best chances are with brahmins and BJP.

It will be very interesting to see how she fares in South. I am happy that now she speaks for Sarvajan and doesnt hate so called upper castes as much as she did earlier. But it was a masterstroke on her part to trust brahmins in UP and she is reaping rich rewards.

She will continue this formula everywhere else in India. I can see congress doesnt have a great future unless they bring Priyanka Gandhi in active politics. Its because Sonia Gandhi dont strike a chord with a lot of Indians. As soon as she starts speaking it becomes clear that no one is interested in her speech.

Priyanks Gandhi on other hand has command on what she talks and she creates a bond with public like Narendra Modiji did in Gujarat. It will take a lot for Rahul gandhi then just eating in a dalit home. Till then he can keep discovering India.

For BJP its Narendra ModiJi who should be a poster boy for development. It would be interesting to see how Modiji and Mayawati get along with each other. But I think these two leaders hold a lot in their hand for India's future.


Ejaz said...

A brilliant article. No one could have commented so fantastically on the present episode of Maya-Rahul Soap opera. I think Muslims of India may turn in bulk to Maya and probably congress will not be able to form next govt at center.

Anonymous said...

Request:- Not to be published.


I wish you all the best wishes for your new magazine called Covert.

As far as I am concerned, I have embarked on a new journey, journey so beautiful where there are no lies, no false hood, no false paroles, where no one dares to mis-interpret.

Just the Truth!

I wish and hope insha allah, one day you too shall find this path too.

I don't wish that you shall be burned in hellfire. Avoid it if possible and try to overcome all the bad habits which are taking you near it-alcohol, dogs, believing in falsehood easily.etc

More than this, i can't say anything as a mussaffir who came and left abrubtly.

I shall say the same thing to an idol worshipper, hypocrite and a dis-believer alike, including my own enemies.

I don't want even my enemies to burn in hellfire but then I don't decide. It is Lord Almighty who decides based on our actions and deeds.

Fire of Gujarat riots reminded me of that hellfire and perhaps it was my first and last call to Truth!

I searched for Truth behind it.

I found it.

In that search I stumbled on my Prophet ( pbuh and his family ) and no man on this earth can surpass this beautiful being and soul who had been created by Lord Almighty as Mercy to Mankind.Soul so beautiful and Mercy so beautiful as Mercy to us, despite this crooked -ness on earth.

1000 life times will not be enough to understand this miracle of Lord Almighty called Muhammad ( Peace be upon Him and his family ).

I don't want to waste my time any more on politics, lies and falsehood.

I was victim of nationalism.

Prophet Muhammad( pbuh and his family) said on his last Haj

" With this all the "isms"-tribalism, casteism, nationalism groupism are dissolved"

In the eyes of Lord Almighty people are judged as high and low based on piety and not class, caste or nation or tribal group.

What else can be more consoling to people who are evicted forcibly out of their households or migrate in search of livelihood to other lands.

Today some crooked people have attached "ism" to Islam and denigrate it. May, who ever has done that die thousand deaths when they die.

I leave you in search of truth. Time to time, I may or may not comment.

But it is better for me to keep my mouth shut and stay in lines of my hijaab rather than stirring people with my comments, with out knowing what the effect of that would be.

I regret that some of my comments have caused pain to some people.

I apologise and take your leave.

With all the best wishes.

kush said...

The scene is not just suffocated between what Mayawati's or Rahul's do. The point is the position that they eventually take. One can give advantage to any party if one is analysing inherently, I mean, so what if Mayawati or Rahul have their own disabilities. Whether Rahul, born with a silver spoon, trying to come cross to the other side or Mayawati reaching out to Brahmins for a larger base.
The point is the politics they play. Mayawati on her part plays the caste politics even after getting the brahmin support. Her imagination of social and economic justice ends with reservation. If all the people who come here know and read well on the issue of politics, noone needs to tell you Mayawati's politics is divisive. If she becomes the PM, one can imagine what will become of the system. Development for her means raising statues and renaming parks and, of course, celebrating birthdays. She is a mud slinger. A defensive women on the offensive. She is, of course, a politician who is working for the downtrodden, esp. backward classes, but there is a sense of glory that she and her campaign attaches to everything that she does and it is not a glory that comes with an intensive effort to uplift classes but also what one conciously seeks for oneself. In the end, just like MJ's article, everything is just a possibility, a possibility that can turn the whole nation on its head.

Anonymous said...

Well said, but chances are Mayawati will go the way of Laloo and Mulayam Singh. Already it looks like wealth and power has gone to her head as she has achieved so much in such a short time and instead of improving the lives of Dalits she builds grandiose Parks and earns crores for self and family. ULTIMATELY MAYAWATI WILL BE TRAPPED IN HER OWN MAYA -WEB OF WEALTH AND POWER. ULTIMATELY IS THIS GOOD FOR INDIAN PEOPLE AS WHOLE BEREFT OF CASTE, CLASS AND RELIGION?

Indian politicians continue to divide Indians instead of uniting on common platform for national growth for all Indians regardless of class, caste and creed. One set of oppressors are replaced by another in India since times immemorial. Dalits are exploited by Backward castes and the circle continues-----------



Anonymous said...

Let us be honest people.

Next lok sabha elections...

Narendra Modi will become Prime Minister of India.

sorry to break it to you like this, but no advani, rahul gandhi, manmohan or mayawati.. can stop the rise of narendra modi from rural karnatka to raipur, from jodhpur to midnapore, west bengal, from himachal to pune...

wake up akbar

Mog Rhod said...

This is a wonderful article. I'm a bit of an outsider, even an imposter, but somehow found myself meeting with folks last April 26th, at a Buddhist Ambedkar event in San Francisco.

In the brief time have had to read a book and study issues, have quickly seen that M.J. Akbar is a reasonable and good source for perspectives on India.

I'm way out of my depth honestly, but have had many conversations with Hindu friends here in California by internet forums, and in fact before practicing Buddhism, was for a time deeply into Hindu type meditation, and limited Yoga. In fact without realizing some fundamental concepts and archetypes of Hinduism, I would not have appreciated as much my Buddhist practice.

Bodhi or Buddha, means awakened. Mohammed, Peace be upon him, was awakened in a cave in Saudi Arabia. Everyone from their own perspective can be awakened within their own context and religion and faith. Though Ambedkar is an originator of justice and an architect of Indian democracy, "final" solutions only belong to the arrogant. In tolerance we must all accommodate or "submit" by degrees.

As a "white" of British ancestry, it is an awakening to learn of the Bengali starvation of 4 million during the 1940's, a genocide of the arrogance of Winston Churchill. This clearly needs to be something taught in Western Curriculums. Process of decolonization must also be realized by descendants of the colonizers.

Again, I'm just a simple (though pluralistic) Californian, who is the younger brother of a former Brahmachari of Yogananda's Self Realization fellowship.

And again, am way out of my depth here. But from an esoteric point of view, at least the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has an elephant surrounded by a cool blue, rather than the greedy Red Elephant of Republicans in the U.S. BSP has a nondual logo, union of opposites in my eyes.

Everyone in India does not have to become Buddhist to become "awakened", just meditate on truth like M.J. Akbar here.

In Buddhism there is the traditional representation of the stages of the path, one of which is taming the mind as represented by training an elephant. Our own mind can either be rampaging, or cooly and kindly removing obstacles (very cheeply at that, only needing a few pennies worth of hay, solution to global warming?).

I'm sure it's just a coincidence but the greatest initial transformation in my meditation practice occurred doing the Ganesha Mahamantra, 108 times.

And now I'm a practicing Buddhist, on top of maintaining my original Christian views (though like Bono of U2, in a nondual sense I consider myself, half protestant half catholic, no more argument). And I have a close Muslim friend from Sri Lanka by the last name of Ganiy.

Hopefully Mayawati continues to be highly active, and mature and avert any Imelda Marcos tendencies, but let's face it she's just mirroring from what I know of politics in India. And hopefully I'm wrong that firing a bunch of policemen "may" be as disastrous as de-Baathification was in Iraq, creating a right wing insurgency.

This is my prayer and meditation on India, may the fruition of right intent, right action, and constitutional justice, be the awakening of all of India.

If it may seem am being a crazy polyglot pluralistic Californian, may I be also be a wish fulfilling gem to the same qualities of India.

It's not about me anyway.

Om Mani Padme Hum