Will Meira match Maya magic?
Meira Kumar is suave, Mayawati a stirrer. Both started their electoral journey from Bijnore Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh in 1985. Meira Kumar won Bijnore. Can she now win back the huge Dalit constituency for her party?
The answer is not easy to come by.
Meira is daughter of Jagjivan Ram, a towering Dalit leader the country once had. But few in the Congress remember the place where he rests today, or that it is called Samata Sthal. By the way when did the Congress last observe his birth anniversary as Samata Diwas?
Samata is today the catchphrase of Mayawati.
Also, Meira and Mayawati pursue a different brand of politics. While Meira never projects her Dalit face, Mayawati thrives on that. This is what Meira said after her nomination for the speakers post, “I am happy that a woman has been picked up for the coveted post for the first time.”
Compare it with Mayawati’s aggressiveness. The Dalit ki beti would have painted the town blue. Recall her election speeches, “Why can’t a dalit occupy the prime minister’ chair.” The fact is that she is more of a dalit than a woman. Many even secretly say, “She is the only man in the cabinet.”
The dalits in Uttar Pradesh empathize with firebrand Mayawati, not with soft-spoken Meira Kumar. They are oblivious of a report released by Delhi based Asian Centre for Human Rights. My colleague Shalini Singh quoted the findinds as, ‘ the number of discrimination cases against tribals and dalits rose 4.7 percent in 2008 over 2007. Congress never projected Meira as their Dalit face. And before she could fill up the vacuum left behind by her father, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati emerged on the country’s political horizon. They stoked emotions as no other party had done it in the past.
JNU professor Vivek Kumar writes in his book “India’s Roaring Revolution: Dalit Assertion and New Horizons,” BSP represents the new horizon of dalit assertion, that dalits can also come to power and in fact rule by forming their own political party, they can also represent themselves independently, which is qualitatively different from being in a party led and dominated by the so-called upper strata and then represented by them for their social-political rights. It is true that before the advent of BSP, dalits never thought of contesting elections independently even for panchayat. Today dalits not only contest elections from panchayat to Parliament on their own but they also nurse the aspiration of becoming ministers, chief ministers and prime minister through a political party led and dominated by dalits. BSP became the first national political party established by dalits- today it stands at third position after Congress and BJP in terms of percentage of popular votes polled in its favor.
The book was written prior to the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. Also before Maya’s independent rule in UP had started. Someday it would be nice to know the writer’s views on the governance of the state by the iron lady.
Nonetheless a section of dalits would not accept anything less than a dalit prime minister through a party led and dominated by the dalits.
To this section Meira Kumar’s nomination hardly calls for celebration.
But Congress message, not one but two, is clear. Women empowerment. What Indira Gandhi did not do, Sonia Gandhi has done. What many advanced nations could not do, India has done. While Indira herself became the first woman prime minister of the country, Sonia has given the country its first woman president and the Lok Sabha its first woman speaker.
With the Yadav trio- Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav –too weak to oppose the move, next to follow will be 33 per cent quota for women both in Parliament and the state legislatures. Where would that leave the BJP? May be Sushma Swaraj would finally get her due.
A Congress leader recently told TV channels, “Congress wants minorities, dalits and women to grow.” Youth have their icon in Rahul and now the Congress is out to build a rainbow coalition, which is caste, community and gender based. However, it will be interesting to see the intensifying war for minorities and dalits in the Hindi heartland in the months to come. Salman Khurshid has already started making noises in UP. Meira Kumar’s appointment will send a subtle message to Bihar.
Mayawati is not going to sit quiet. Her plans to rule the country have misfired. Now Congress is hurting her most. She is going to retaliate. How? Watch the coming days.