Untouchable politics and politicians since 1956
Kanshi Ram and Mayawati in Government
Before the UP Assembly election (held after the dismissal of the BJP Government), Kanshi Ram entered into an alliance with Mulayam Singh. The primary vote banks of the two men were complementary the Yadavs and the Chamars. This was by no means a 'natural' alliance, since the two communities had engaged in perennial and sometimes violent conflict in the villages. Indeed, the Yadavs had frequently captured voting booths in eastern UP and prevented the Chamars from voting. But each of the leaders could now see that his prospects were poor without the other, and they agreed on a division of seats so as to combine their vote. The alliance produced a dramatically enhanced increase in seats for the Bahujana Samaj Party (67), but its vote rose less dramatically to .11 per cent (achieved admittedly in a sharply reduced number of contests). Meanwhile the Samajwadi Party won 109 seats and 25.83 per cent of the vote, making it second to the BJP with its 177 seats and 33.3 per cent of the vote. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujana Samaj Party were able to form a coalition Government, with Mulayam Singh as Chief Minister. But Kanshi Ram and Mayawati soon came to believe that their party's interests were being infringed by Mulayam - one issue was the alleged kidnapping of one of their candidates during panchayat elections. There was also concern at the number of 'atrocities' perpetrated against Scheduled Caste people, some of them by Yadavs; the belief was that Mulayam was deliberately failing to control his own followers in this matter. But above all Mulayam had brought about the defection of a number of the Bahujana Samaj legislators to his own party - some of them were Kurmis - and was daily seeking to whittle away his coalition partner from above. Accordingly, in June 1995 Kanshi Ram and Mayawati brought the Government down.
Given the overwhelming importance that Kanshi Ram now places on the acquisition of administrative power, his willingness to form a new Government with the support of the 'Manuwadi' BJP becomes more comprehensible. He took the view that so long as he did not have to take orders from the BJP then he was prepared to put up with the odium of being propped up by the party hated by the whole of progressive India. Perhaps conveniently, he argued that the Congress, the Janata Dal and the Communists were as much 'Manuwadi' parties as was the BJP. But there was still an enormous cultural and ideological gulf between his party and the BJP, and it was left to an outsider to play a perhaps crucial role in bridging the gap. Jayant Malhoutra, a prominent industrialist and Member of the Rajya Sabha, did much of the diplomatic negotiation between the leaders of the two parties. He and Kanshi Ram had formed an unlikely friendship several years earlier, and Malhoutra claims that his assistance to Kanshi Ram was motivated by concern to help bring about a 'soft landing' for India after the inevitable clash between the haves and have-nots (Malhoutra interview: 7 November 1995). For its part the BJP knew that neither of the other two large legislative parties would support a minority Government of its own. Since the HIP leaders had come to have a special antipathy to Mulayam's rule, their best option was to allow the third and seemingly less threatening party to form a Government - they saw more to fear from the Yadavs than the Dalits. The HIP leadership had in mind the longer-term goal of permanently splitting the vote banks commanded by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujana Samaj Party, thereby opening up a path to their own domination of Uttar Pradesh.
In June 1995 Kanshi Ram ceded to Mayawati the task of leading the new Government in Uttar Pradesh, and her period as Chief Minister has been a platform upon which Mayawati has built a now considerable polit-ical presence in Uttar Pradesh. Early on the much younger Mayawati was properly regarded as a mere lieutenant of Kanshi Ram, to whom popular accounts suggest she is romantically as well as politically linked. But Mayawati has been able to bring a charisma and liveliness to the hustings that Kanshi Ram himself has lacked. She has represented a novelty - a direct and forthright Dalit woman with courage sufficient to run hard against the powerful institutions that so oppress poor Indians. In short, Mayawati has become both considerably popular and also a force to reckon with.
The Government of 1995 is properly regarded as a joint Kanshi Ram-Mayawati Government - Kanshi Ram continued to reside primar-ily in Delhi but made frequent trips to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, and was consulted on all major decisions. In terms of new poli-cies or administrative programs, there was little to be seen from the four months of their rule. But this is by no means to say that this was not a signficant or a distinctive administration. Part of its significance resides in the intrusion of a different culture into the machinery of government of the State. Mayawati demonstrated that the Bahujana Samaj's antipathy to 'Brahminwadi' culture was no mere abstraction but was to serve as a guide to the identity of the actual bureaucrats who could be trusted to direct the administration. In a word, Mayawati chose to promote and work through a small coterie of Scheduled Caste officers. For example, the high-caste incumbents in the Chief Secretary and Chief Minister's Principal Private Secretary positions were both replaced by Scheduled Caste officers. Even more controversially, a number of more junior Scheduled Caste officers were favoured with accelerated promotion and positions at the centre of the administration. This change inevitably provoked resentment and the claim that merit had been replaced by casteism.
Within the larger administration of the State Maywati made energetic resort to the device of transfers and disciplinary action against officers found delinquent in one aspect or another. The transfer of senior officials for reasons other than completion of a normal term has become com-monplace in a number of States of India, but by common consent Mayawati engaged in the practice more richly than before in Uttar Pradesh. Quite deliberately she created a climate of fear in order to motivate officials to work to her agenda. She dealt particularly severely with officials judged to have failed to protect the most vulnerable people in a particular District, the Dalits above all. Overwhelmingly condemned in the press, her actions appear to have evoked a sense of satisfaction among common people routinely subjected to official arrogance and callousness. And a number of commentators both within the administration and outside believed that Mayawati had administered a powerful and long overdue lesson to bureaucrats that their place was as servant, not master, of the people.'
The most persistent complaint about the Bahujana Samaj Government was the degree of illicit money it exacted, particularly in the matter of obliging individual bureaucrats regarding their transfer or non-transfer. Given the habitual misuse of public office to derive funds for party if not personal purposes, it would be surprising indeed if some of these stories were not true. What cannot be established is whether such official wrong-doing was conducted on a scale greater than that of earlier administra-tions in Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps a good deal of the problem arose from the callowness of Mayawati and her lieutenants - some of the stories suggest that their insufficient knowledge of the system, and also the hurry they were in, made it difficult for them to derive funds efficiently and quietly. Official corruption is something of an acquired art.
It is clear that Mayawati was not an accessible Chief Minister. Apart from the question of the tightness of her bureaucratic team, she was inaccessible to many of her own Ministers and to representatives of the BJP who felt entitled to a hearing in return for their support of the Government. Some of this inaccessibility may have arisen from motives that were not unreasonable. Thus Mayawati and Kanshi Ram were deter-mined not to run a Government that freely granted favours to people for reasons other than the welfare of the party itself. They were particularly suspicious of requests from politicians where the request seemed to arise from personal pecuniary interest. The problem of inaccessibility was compounded by Kanshi Ram's continuing to reside in Delhi rather than Lucknow throughout the life of the Government. There were also issues of personal style. Mayawati's reputation is one of meting out harshness and even humiliation to those with whom she finds fault, though it is also true that many informants report having experienced no such treatment. On the other side, the practice of showing elaborate respect to the leaders became something of a culture within party circles. This sometimes took the form of touching the feet of Mayawati and Kanshi Ram, a ritual form of respect that now tends to be seen as demeaning and 'feudal' in origin. The complaint is that the two leaders encouraged this practice. In short, there were problems of both process and style that gave rise to considerable resentment and disaffection in Lucknow. This is one, but only one, reason for the large number of defections from the legislative party that took place after the Government fell.
The public style of the Mayawati Government was more abrasive than radical. Indeed, Mayawati's own most provocative gesture was enacted even before she formed her own Government. In March 1994, during the Mulayam Singh government, Mayawati had somewhat casually con-demned Gandhi as 'an enemy of the dalits and the Bahujan samaj at large' (The Telegraph: in March 1994). Despite the frequency of previous Ambedkarite attacks on the Mahatma, Mayawati's remarks occasioned a storm of protest in the pages of the press. The extravagance of this reac-tion was a pointer to the sensitivities aroused by the Dalits' proximity to power in Uttar Pradesh. During her own Government Mayawati curbed her rhetoric - indeed, she felt constrained to lay the customary wreath on the occasion of Gandhi's birth celebration. The most flamboyant gesture of her Government - and here Kanshi Ram's hand is clearly evident - was to build a Pariwartan Chowk or Revolution Square in Lucknow that was to have huge statues of the great figures of anti-Brahmin activism: Phule, Periyar, Ambedkar, Shahu Maharaj. In the event, the Government fell before the statues could be completed. Construction of the Ghowk pro-ceeded around the clock in order to coincide with the staging of a Periyar Mela: this was a celebration of the life and works of the great figure of the Tamil non-Brahmin movement, Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker. The event was less than a resounding success in Lucknow, where Periyar is almost unknown, but the symbolism was probably directed more to Dalits in the south of India.
After the fall of the Bahujana Samaj Government it became fashionable to declare that a great opportunity had been lost by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati: they could have struck a blow for the liberation of the Dalits but they squandered their opportunity in corruption, crassness and the politics of business-as-usual. This is a dubious interpretation. Throughout their brief period of power Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had little room to manceuvre. They had a small minority of MLAs, and they knew they existed on borrowed time from the beginning. At best they could have had about a year in power before elections in mid-1996. There was simply no time to initiate solid administrative or development pro-grams, even if they had the capacity to formulate such initiatives. In these circumstances the politics of symbolism was bound to be the most effective way to encourage their own constituency. But strong symbolism breeds savage reactions in contemporary India, and the New Delhi lead-ership of the BJP found it increasingly difficult to hold State leaders to the bargain of supporting Mayawati in the name of strategic electoral gain. It surprised no one when this leadership bowed to the pressures welling up in Uttar Pradesh and decided to end the life of the minority Government. President's rule intervened until a new Government could be formed after the general election of April 1996; in the event it was not until March 1997 that a new Government took office.