Friday, October 28, 2011

Statues will not assure Mayawati immortality

It is difficult to take issue with Mayawati for her monuments, never mind their huge cost. She is only following in the footsteps of past rulers and leaders. At least she built her own National Dalit Memorial and Green Park. Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter simply appropriated the prime minister’s official residence, a Lutyens-era building, converting it into a monument for the first prime minister of the country. The same happened with Indira Gandhi, and the families of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jagjivan Ram followed suit, beginning a trend that could well convert Lutyens Delhi into a necropolis.
Mayawati is merely a mortal and no doubt she expects that her great Dalit Memorial Park will memorialise her life  for centuries, if not millennia. But the Park, she also seemed to suggest in her inaugural speech, was her beachhead for the invasion of Delhi.
She repeatedly emphasised that the Dalit Memorial on the east bank of the Yamuna stood, as if in counterpoint, to the Nehru-Gandhi memorials on the west. In other words, they signified the arrival of Dalit power at the very gates of the capital. False modesty has never been one of Mayawati’s faults, and she has made it known more than once that the Dalit ki beti intends to become the Prime Minister of India.
There is nothing wrong in her seeking to make a political point, or to establish a symbol of Dalit power through statues and monuments. This has a history going back to the Pharaohs and Caesars. Megalomania, or a search for immortality, can result in memorials aimed at leaving an imprint for thousands of years. But history is quite impartial on the matter. China’s first emperor Chin Shi Huang (259-210 BCE) built an enormous
monument in Xian which has been located —though, yet to be opened, its attendant terracotta army has made the site famous.
In contrast, however, there is someone whose impact is even greater, Genghis Khan (1162?-1227CE), whose descendants ensured that his tomb would remain hidden forever. The great Khan clearly needed no monuments and has imprinted himself on historical memory through his great conquests and, apparently, his sex life. Recent research claims that 8 per cent of the men living in the region that formed part of the Mongol Empire carry Y-chromosomes identical to Genghis which amounts to a staggering 0.5 per cent of the population of the world today.
Yet statues and monuments can be destroyed, obliterating history. UP’s second most important political formation, the Samajwadi Party, has declared that it will pull down Mayawati’s monuments if it came to power. Fearing guerrilla attacks on the parks, Mayawati has set up a special force to guard them.
There is a precedent in history there as well. The successors of the monotheist pharaoh Akhenaten (1300 BCE)  destroyed his temples as thoroughly as they could. But they did not reckon with researchers of the twentieth century with computers who matched every piece of a destroyed frieze and told us the story of the great king of ancient Egypt, husband to the beauteous Nefertiti and father of Tutankhamen.
It would be futile to tell Mayawati that a bigger imprint on history has been left by people who have no monuments at all, at least not historically identifiable ones—Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. What they have left is a legacy of words and ideas which are far more pervasive than the awe any monument inspires. In that sense, actually, Bhimrao Ambedkar does not need a statue to honour him; he has the words of the Indian Constitution to memorialise him.
So the lessons of history, insofar as monuments are concerned, are somewhat chequered. Great buildings get re-labeled, like the great Hagia Sophia (360 CE) in Constantinople which was converted into a mosque and then a museum. As for statues, they are much easier to deal with. With some luck they are merely carted away, as in the case of the imperial statues that litter the Coronation park in Kingsway Camp in New Delhi. If you are unlucky like Stalin, Lenin and Saddam, the statues are pulled down and destroyed. Or, of course, if the culture changes, as in Egypt, a statue, like that of the Pharaohs, is shorn of any claim to divinity and remains merely as a museum piece.
Somehow, I think that it is not the eternal that bothers this arch practitioner of realpolitik right now, but the immediate and the limited. And that happens to be the coming elections to the Uttar Pradesh state assembly. Having failed to make a dent in other states, it is clear that Mayawati cannot permit any erosion of her party’s dominant position in the state. In that sense the speech at the inaugural of the park was actually the beginning of her 2012 state assembly election campaign.
The enemies have been clearly identified. The Samajwadi Party would have the first claim to be her principal rival. But it was scarcely mentioned in her speech. Instead, all her ire was focused on the Congress. The reason for that is not far to seek.
The Congress came up with a surprise performance in the 2009 General Elections winning one more seat in the Lok Sabha than the BSP. More important, it became clear that Rahul Gandhi’s campaigning had made an impact and managed to erode a bit of Mayawati’s non-Jatav Dalit vote. This is the party whose leader Rahul Gandhi has made guerrilla raids into the state, picking up issues that show up Mayawati’s government as being insensitive not only to the poor and weak, but the Dalits as well.
Election outcome analyses have shown that Mayawati’s Brahmin-Bahujan strategy is no longer working. The National Election Study 2009 revealed an erosion of the Brahmin support with a large proportion of upper caste votes going back to the Congress, and a smaller to the BJP. Additionally the Congress gained Muslim and non-Jatav Dalit votes, though not at the expense of the BSP.
Not surprisingly, all talk of the “sarvajan” samaj seems to have stopped and
Ms Mayawati is focused on preserving her Dalit fortress. But, at the end of the day, given the fractured electorate, rock-solid Dalit support alone will not be enough to enable the BSP to form a government again. 
Enormous will power and organisation skills have brought Ms Mayawati where she is. But whether it is the elections, or her own achievements, they are yet only engraved in stone. The world outside the Dalit Memorial Park remains harsh, especially so in Ms Mayawati’s UP. She cannot pass on the blame to past governments alone. Indeed, till the 1980s, UP was badly off, but not as badly off as it is today relative to the other states of the Union.
So, when the next assembly election comes around, Ms Mayawati will not have to address history, but the people of her state who are only partly Dalit. They will decide whether she has, as she claimed in her speech, fought against criminalisation and corruption. More important, they are bound to raise queries about development  issues. 
She has had four terms as Chief Minister, though in fairness only the current one will run the full term. Even so, Nitish Kumar has shown in neighbouring Bihar that real change can be brought about, even in seemingly hopeless states within years, should the leader have the right qualities.
Mail Today October 18, 2011

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